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J Biol Chem. 2011 Apr 8;286(14):12340-8. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M110.194498. Epub 2011 Jan 14.

Delta-like 1 serves as a new target and contributor to liver fibrosis down-regulated by mesenchymal stem cell transplantation.

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  • 1College of Life Sciences, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou 310058, China.


Chronic liver injury always progresses to fibrosis and eventually to cirrhosis, a massive health care burden worldwide. Delta-like 1 (Dlk1) is well known as an inhibitor of adipocyte differentiation. However, whether it is involved in liver fibrosis remains unclear. Here, we provide the first evidence that Dlk1 is a critical contributor to liver fibrosis through promoting activation of hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) during chronic liver injury. We found that upon liver injury, Dlk1 was dramatically induced and initially expressed in hepatocytes and then into the HSCs by a paracrine manner. It leads to the activation of HSCs, which is considered to be a pivotal event in liver fibrogenesis. Two forms (∼50 and ∼25 kDa) of the Dlk1 protein were detected by Western blot analysis. In vitro administration of Dlk1 significantly promoted HSC activation, whereas in vivo knockdown of Dlk1 dramatically inhibited HSC activation and the subsequent fibrosis. The large soluble form (∼50 kDa) of Dlk1 was shown to contribute to HSC activation. We were encouraged to find the Dlk1-promoted HSC activation and liver fibrosis can be depressed by transplantation of bone marrow-mesenchymal stem cells (BM-MSCs). Furthermore, we demonstrated that FGF2 was up-regulated in BM-MSCs under injury stimulation, and it probably participated in the inhibition of Dlk1 by BM-MSCs. Our findings provide a novel role of Dlk1 in liver fibrosis leading to a better understanding of the molecular basis in fibrosis and cirrhosis and also give insights into the cellular and molecular mechanisms of MSC biology in liver repair.

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