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    A small population of liver endothelial cells undergoes endothelial-to-mesenchymal transition in response to chronic liver injury.

    Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol 2017 Nov 10;313(5):G492-G504. Epub 2017 Aug 10.
    Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics Department, Hospital Clínic of Barcelona, Institut d'Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer, Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red de Enfermedades Hepáticas y Digestivas, Barcelona, Spain;
    Rising evidence points to endothelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EndMT) as a significant source of the mesenchymal cell population in fibrotic diseases. In this context, we hypothesized that liver endothelial cells undergo EndMT during fibrosis progression. Cirrhosis in mice was induced by CClA transgenic mouse expressing a red fluorescent protein reporter under the control of Tie2 promoter (Tie2-tdTomato) was used to trace the acquisition of EndMT. Sinusoidal vascular connectivity was evaluated by intravital microscopy and high-resolution three-dimensional confocal microscopy. A modest but significant fraction of liver endothelial cells from both cirrhotic patients and CCl-treated Tie2-tdTomato mice acquired an EndMT phenotype characterized by the coexpression of CD31 and α-smooth muscle actin, compared with noncirrhotic livers. Bone morphogenetic protein-7 (BMP-7) inhibited the acquisition of EndMT induced by transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1) treatment in cultured primary mouse liver endothelial cells from control mice. EndMT was also reduced significantly in vivo in cirrhotic Tie2-tdTomato mice treated intraperitoneally with BMP-7 compared with untreated mice (1.9 ± 0.2 vs. 3.8 ± 0.3%, respectively;< 0.05). The decrease of EndMT in cirrhotic livers correlated with a significant decrease in liver fibrosis (< 0.05) and an improvement in the vascular disorganization rate (< 0.05). We demonstrated the acquisition of the EndMT phenotype by a subpopulation of endothelial cells from cirrhotic livers in both animal models and patients. BMP-7 treatment decreases the occurrence of the EndMT phenotype and has a positive impact on the severity of disease by reducing fibrosis and sinusoidal vascular disorganization.A subpopulation of liver endothelial cells from cirrhotic patients and mice with liver fibrosis undergoes endothelial-to-mesenchymal transition. Liver endothelial cells from healthy mice could transition into a mesenchymal phenotype in culture in response to TGF-β1 treatment. Fibrotic livers treated chronically with BMP-7 showed lower EndMT acquisition, reduced fibrosis, and improved vascular organization.
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