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Gas6/Axl pathway is activated in chronic liver disease and its targeting reduces fibrosis via hepatic stellate cell inactivation

AuthorsBárcena, Cristina CSIC ORCID; Stefanovic, Milica CSIC; Tutusaus, Anna; Menendez, Anghara CSIC ; García-Ruiz, Carmen CSIC ORCID ; Marí, Montserrat CSIC ORCID ; Fernández-Checa, José C. CSIC ORCID; García de Frutos, Pablo CSIC ORCID ; Morales, Albert CSIC ORCID
KeywordsChronic liver patients
Experimental fibrosis
Gas6/Axl serum levels
HSC activation
TAM receptors
Issue Date1-Sep-2015
PublisherEuropean Association for the Study of the Liver
CitationJournal of Hepatology 63(3): 670-678 (2015)
Abstract© 2015 European Association for the Study of the Liver. Background & Aims Liver fibrosis, an important health concern associated to chronic liver injury that provides a permissive environment for cancer development, is characterized by accumulation of extracellular matrix components mainly derived from activated hepatic stellate cells (HSCs). Axl, a receptor tyrosine kinase and its ligand Gas6, are involved in cell differentiation, immune response and carcinogenesis. Methods HSCs were obtained from WT and Axl<sup>-/-</sup> mice, treated with recombinant Gas6 protein (rGas6), Axl siRNAs or the Axl inhibitor BGB324, and analyzed by western blot and real-time PCR. Experimental fibrosis was studied in CCl<inf>4</inf>-treated WT and Axl<sup>-/-</sup> mice, and in combination with Axl inhibitor. Gas6 and Axl serum levels were measured in alcoholic liver disease (ALD) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) patients. Results In primary mouse HSCs, Gas6 and Axl levels paralleled HSC activation. rGas6 phosphorylated Axl and AKT prior to HSC phenotypic changes, while Axl siRNA silencing reduced HSC activation. Moreover, BGB324 blocked Axl/AKT phosphorylation and diminished HSC activation. In addition, Axl<sup>-/-</sup> mice displayed decreased HSC activation in vitro and liver fibrogenesis after chronic damage by CCl<inf>4</inf> administration. Similarly, BGB324 reduced collagen deposition and CCl<inf>4</inf>-induced liver fibrosis in mice. Importantly, Gas6 and Axl serum levels increased in ALD and HCV patients, inversely correlating with liver functionality. Conclusions The Gas6/Axl axis is required for full HSC activation. Gas6 and Axl serum levels increase in parallel to chronic liver disease progression. Axl targeting may be a therapeutic strategy for liver fibrosis management.
Publisher version (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhep.2015.04.013
Identifiersdoi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2015.04.013
issn: 1600-0641
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