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PLoS One. 2018 Nov 27;13(11):e0207915. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0207915. eCollection 2018.

Comparison of the antifibrotic effects of the pan-histone deacetylase-inhibitor panobinostat versus the IPF-drug pirfenidone in fibroblasts from patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

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Department of Internal Medicine, Justus-Liebig-University Giessen, Giessen, Germany.
Universities of Giessen and Marburg Lung Center (UGMLC), Member of the German Center for Lung Research (DZL), Giessen, Germany.
Excellence Cluster Cardio-Pulmonary System (ECCPS), Giessen, Germany.
Department of Medicine, Section of Pulmonary Diseases, Critical Care and Environmental Medicine, Tulane University Health Sciences Center, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States of America.
Department of Thoracic Surgery, Vienna General Hospital, Vienna, Austria.
European IPF Network and European IPF Registry, Giessen, Germany.
Institute of Pathology and Cytology, Wetzlar, Germany.
Max-Planck-Institute for Heart and Lung Research, Department of Lung Development and Remodeling, Bad Nauheim, Germany.
Department of Toxicology, University Medical Center, Mainz, Germany.
Agaplesion Lung Clinic Waldhof Elgershausen, Greifenstein, Germany.



Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a devastating lung disease with a poor prognosis. Pirfenidone is the first antifibrotic agent to be approved for IPF-treatment as it is able to slow down disease progression. However, there is no curative treatment other than lung transplantation. Because epigenetic alterations are associated with IPF, histone deacetylase (HDAC)-inhibitors have recently been proven to attenuate fibrotic remodeling in vitro and in vivo. This study compared the effects of pirfenidone with the pan-HDAC-inhibitor panobinostat/LBH589, a FDA-approved drug for the treatment of multiple myeloma, head-to-head on survival, fibrotic activity and proliferation of primary IPF-fibroblasts in vitro.


Primary fibroblasts from six IPF-patients were incubated for 24h with vehicle (0.25% DMSO), panobinostat (LBH589, 85 nM) or pirfenidone (2.7 mM), followed by assessment of proliferation and expression analyses for profibrotic and anti-apoptosis genes, as well as for ER stress and apoptosis-markers. In addition, the expression status of all HDAC enzymes was examined.


Treatment of IPF-fibroblasts with panobinostat or pirfenidone resulted in a downregulated expression of various extracellular matrix (ECM)-associated genes, as compared to vehicle-treated cells. In agreement, both drugs decreased protein level of phosphorylated (p)-STAT3, a transcription factor mediating profibrotic responses, in treated IPF-fibroblasts. Further, an increase in histone acetylation was observed in response to both treatments, but was much more pronounced and excessive in panobinostat-treated IPF-fibroblasts. Panobinostat, but not pirfenidone, led to a significant suppression of proliferation in IPF-fibroblasts, as indicated by WST1- and BrdU assay and markedly diminished levels of cyclin-D1 and p-histone H3. Furthermore, panobinostat-treatment enhanced α-tubulin-acetylation, decreased the expression of survival-related genes Bcl-XL and BIRC5/survivin, and was associated with induction of ER stress and apoptosis in IPF-fibroblasts. In contrast, pirfenidone-treatment maintained Bcl-XL expression, and was neither associated with ER stress-induction nor any apoptotic signaling. Pirfenidone also led to increased expression of HDAC6 and sirtuin-2, and enhanced α-tubulin-deacetylation. But in line with its ability to increase histone acetylation, pirfenidone reduced the expression of HDAC enzymes HDAC1, -2 and -9.


We conclude that, beside other antifibrotic mechanisms, pirfenidone reduces profibrotic signaling also through STAT3 inactivation and weak epigenetic alterations in IPF-fibroblasts, and permits survival of (altered) fibroblasts. The pan-HDAC-inhibitor panobinostat reduces profibrotic phenotypes while inducing cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in IPF-fibroblasts, thus indicating more efficiency than pirfenidone in inactivating IPF-fibroblasts. We therefore believe that HDAC-inhibitors such as panobinostat can present a novel therapeutic strategy for IPF.

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