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Biosci Trends. 2012 Jun;6(3):136-42. doi: 10.5582/bst.2012.v6.3.136.

Overexpression of hepatocyte growth factor receptor in scleroderma dermal fibroblasts is caused by autocrine transforming growth factor β signaling.

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Department of Dermatology and Plastic Surgery, Kumamoto University, Kumamoto, Japan.


Cutaneous fibrosis seen in systemic sclerosis (SSc) is caused by fibroblast activation and abnormal collagen accumulation due to 'autocrine transforming growth factor (TGF)-β/Smad signaling'. Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) may have therapeutic value against SSc, because of its inducible effect on the expression of matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-1. Previous studies indicated SSc dermal fibroblasts overexpress HGF receptor c-met, which suggest specific and effective induction of MMP-1 in SSc fibroblasts caused by HGF treatment. However, the exact mechanism of c-met overexpression in SSc cells was hardly investigated. We hypothesized that such c-met overexpression is also caused by autocrine TGF-β/Smad signaling. Expression of c-met protein in cultured SSc dermal fibroblasts was significantly up-regulated compared with that in normal fibroblasts. Ectopic TGF-β stimulation induced c-met synthesis in normal fibroblasts, while a TGF-β knockdown normalized the up-regulated c-met levels in SSc fibroblasts. Furthermore, we found the c-met promoter contains a putative binding site for Smads, and the binding activity of Smad2/3 to the c-met promoter was constitutively up-regulated in SSc fibroblasts as well as in normal fibroblasts treated with exogenous TGF-β1. Taken together, c-met may be overexpressed due to autocrine TGF-β/Smad signaling in SSc. Considering that HGF has an antifibrotic effect, such c-met overexpression in SSc fibroblasts may be a negative feedback against cutaneous fibrosis. Clarifying the mechanisms of c-met overexpression and controlling the HGF/c-met pathway may lead to a new therapeutic approach for this disease.

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