PGC-1α regulates autophagy to promote fibroblast activation and tissue fibrosis.

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Coactivators are a heterogeneous family of transcriptional regulators that are essential for modulation of transcriptional outcomes and fine-tune numerous cellular processes. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the role of the coactivator peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma coactivator-1α (PGC-1α) in the pathogenesis of systemic sclerosis (SSc).Expression of PGC-1α was analysed by real-time PCR, western blot and immunofluorescence. Modulation of autophagy was analysed by reporter studies by expression of autophagy-related genes. The effects of PGC-1α knockdown on collagen production and myofibroblast differentiation were analysed in cultured human fibroblasts and in two mouse models with fibroblast-specific knockout of PGC-1α.The expression of PGC-1α was induced in dermal fibroblasts of patients with SSc and experimental murine fibrosis. Transforming growth factor beta (TGFβ), hypoxia and epigenetic mechanisms regulate the expression of PGC-1α in fibroblasts. Knockdown of PGC-1α prevented the activation of autophagy by TGFβ and this translated into reduced fibroblast-to-myofibroblast differentiation and collagen release. Knockout of PGC-1α in fibroblasts prevented skin fibrosis induced by bleomycin and by overexpression of a constitutively active TGFβ receptor type I. Moreover, pharmacological inhibition of PGC-1α by SR18292 induced regression of pre-established, bleomycin-induced skin fibrosis.PGC-1α is upregulated in SSc and promotes autophagy to foster TGFβ-induced fibroblast activation. Targeting of PGC-1α prevents aberrant autophagy, inhibits fibroblast activation and tissue fibrosis and may over therapeutic potential.

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