Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol 2006 Jan 25;290(1):G137-44. Epub 2005 Aug 25.
Centre for Inflammatory Diseases, Monash Institute of Medical Research, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria 3168, Australia.
Activin A, a member of the transforming growth factor-beta superfamily, is constitutively expressed in hepatocytes and regulates liver mass through tonic inhibition of hepatocyte DNA synthesis. Follistatin is the main biological inhibitor of activin bioactivity. These molecules may be involved in hepatic fibrogenesis, although defined roles remain unclear. We studied activin and follistatin gene and protein expression in cultured rat hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) and in rats given CCl4 for 8 wk and examined the effect of follistatin administration on the development of hepatic fibrosis. In activated HSCs, activin mRNA was upregulated with high expression levels, whereas follistatin mRNA expression was unchanged from baseline. Activin A expression in normal lobular hepatocytes redistributed to periseptal hepatocytes and smooth muscle actin-positive HSCs in the fibrotic liver. A 32% reduction in fibrosis, maximal at week 4, occurred in CCl4-exposed rats treated with follistatin. Hepatocyte apoptosis decreased by 87% and was maximal at week 4 during follistatin treatment. In conclusion, activin is produced by activated HSCs in vitro and in vivo. Absence of simultaneous upregulation of follistatin gene expression in HSCs suggests that HSC-derived activin is biologically active and unopposed by follistatin. Our in vivo and in vitro results demonstrate that activin-mediated events contribute to hepatic fibrogenesis and that follistatin attenuates early events in fibrogenesis by constraining HSC proliferation and inhibiting hepatocyte apoptosis.