A20 suppresses canonical Smad-dependent fibroblast activation: novel function for an endogenous inflammatory modulator

  • Swati Bhattacharyya (Northwestern University) (Creator)
  • Wenxia Wang (Contributor)
  • Lauren V. Graham (Creator)
  • John Varga (Northwestern University) (Creator)



Abstract Background The ubiquitin-editing cytosolic enzyme A20, the major negative regulator of toll-like receptor (TLR)-mediated cellular inflammatory responses, has tight genetic linkage with systemic sclerosis (SSc). Because recent studies implicate endogenous ligand-driven TLR signaling in SSc pathogenesis, we sought to investigate the regulation, role and mechanism of action of A20 in skin fibroblasts. Method A20 expression and the effects of forced A20 expression or siRNA-mediated A20 knockdown on fibrotic responses induced by transforming growth factor-ß (TGF-ß) were evaluated was evaluated in explanted human skin fibroblasts. Additionally, A20 regulation by TGF-ß, and by adiponectin, a pleiotropic adipokine with anti-fibrotic activity, was evaluated. Results In normal fibroblasts, TGF-ß induced sustained downregulation of A20, and abrogated its TLR4-dependent induction. Forced expression of A20 aborted the stimulation of collagen gene expression and myofibroblast transformation induced by TGF-ß, and disrupted canonical Smad signaling and Smad-dependent transcriptional responses. Conversely, siRNA-mediated knockdown of A20 enhanced the amplitude of fibrotic responses elicited by TGF-ß. Adiponectin, previously shown to block TLR-dependent fibrotic responses, elicited rapid and sustained increase in A20 accumulation in fibroblasts. Conclusion These results identify the ubiquitin-editing enzyme A20 as a novel endogenous mechanism for negative regulation of fibrotic response intensity. Systemic sclerosis-associated genetic variants of A20 that cause impaired A20 expression or function, combined with direct suppression of A20 by TGF-ß within the fibrotic milieu, might play a significant functional role in persistence of fibrotic responses, while pharmacological augmentation of A20 inhibitory pathway activity might represent a novel therapeutic strategy.
Date made available2016

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