Background/aims: Activation of the transcription factor NFkappaB has been demonstrated in activated hepatic stellate cells (HSCs). We investigated the role of NFkappaB in proliferation, in activation, and in TNFalpha-induced apoptosis of HSCs.
Methods: NFkappaB activation was inhibited using an adenovirus expressing an IkappaB dominant negative protein (Ad5IkappaB) in both quiescent and activated HSCs. Quiescent HSCs were infected with Ad5IkappaB or an adenovirus expressing beta-galactosidase (Ad5LacZ). The cells were cultured for 7 days. HSCs activation was determined by cell morphology, smooth muscle alpha-actin (alpha-sma) expression, and steady-state mRNA levels of alpha1(I) collagen as assessed by Western blot and RNase protection assay, respectively. Proliferation was determined in culture-activated HSCs by 3H-thymidine incorporation and direct cell counting. Apoptosis was analyzed by infecting quiescent or activated HSCs with Ad5IkappaB or Ad5LacZ, and then treating with TNFalpha. Apoptosis was demonstrated by determining cell number, assessing nuclear morphology, TUNEL assay and caspase 3 activity.
Results: After 7 days in culture no differences were noted between the Ad5IkappaB- and the Ad5LacZ-infected cells in the morphology, alpha-sma expression or in alpha1(I) collagen mRNA levels. Ad5IkappaB infection did not modify proliferation in activated HSCs. TNFalpha induced apoptosis only in Ad5IkappaB-infected activated, but not quiescent HSCs. Apoptosis was initially demonstrated 12 h after exposure to TNFalpha. Twenty-four h after the TNFalpha treatment, 60% of the activated HSCs were apoptotic.
Conclusion: NFkappaB activity is not required for proliferation or activation of HSCs; however, NFkappaB protects activated HSCs against TNFalpha-induced apoptosis.