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Am J Physiol Renal Physiol. 2013 Aug 15;305(4):F485-94. doi: 10.1152/ajprenal.00215.2013. Epub 2013 Jun 12.

TGF-β/Smad3 activates mammalian target of rapamycin complex-1 to promote collagen production by increasing HIF-1α expression.

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Dept. of Pediatrics, 310 E. Superior St. Chicago, IL 60611.


Transforming growth factor (TGF)-β is a major mediator of kidney fibrosis. In the past decade it was recognized that, besides canonical Smad signaling, many other signaling pathways participate in the process of TGF-β-induced fibrogenesis. One such pathway involves mammalian target of rapamycin complex (mTORC)1. We recently reported that the hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF)-1 is essential for TGF-β-induced collagen expression regardless of ambient oxygen tension. A modulator of HIF expression other than oxygen tension is mTORC1. We therefore sought to evaluate a possible role for mTORC1 activity in TGF-β-induced fibrogenesis. mTORC1 activity was increased in human mesangial cells treated with TGF-β in a TGF-β receptor-dependent manner. Short hairpin (sh)RNA to Smad3 decreased, while overexpression of Smad3 increased, the mTORC1 activity, suggesting that TGF-β stimulation of mTORC1 also requires Smad3. Pretreatment with rapamycin or shRNA for a regulatory molecule of mTORC1, Raptor, reduced TGF-β-induced COL1A2-luc activity and collagen I protein expression. mTORC1 inhibition also prevented the TGF-β-stimulated increase in both hypoxia-responsive element (HRE) activity and HIF-1α protein expression, while activation of mTORC1 by active Rheb increased basal but not TGF-β-induced HRE activity. shRNA to Smad3 reduced HRE activity, while overexpression of Smad3 increased HIF-1α protein expression and activity in an mTORC1-dependent manner. Lastly, overexpression of HIF-1α bypassed the inhibitory effect of mTORC1 blockade on collagen expression. These results suggest that Smad3/mTORC1 interaction to promote HIF-1 expression is a key step in normoxic kidney fibrogenesis.


HIF; Smad3; TGF-β; collagen; fibrosis; mTOR; rapamycin

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