Impaired Smad7-Smurf-mediated negative regulation of TGF-beta signaling in scleroderma fibroblasts

J Clin Invest. 2004 Jan;113(2):253-64. doi: 10.1172/JCI16269.


The principal effect of TGF-beta1 on mesenchymal cells is its stimulation of ECM synthesis. Previous reports indicated the significance of the autocrine TGF-beta loop in the pathogenesis of scleroderma. In this study, we focused on Smad7 and Smurfs, principal molecules in the negative regulation of TGF-beta signaling, to further understand the autocrine TGF-beta loop in scleroderma. Scleroderma fibroblasts exhibited increased Smad7 levels compared with normal fibroblasts in vivo and in vitro. Smad7 constitutively formed a complex with the TGF-beta receptors, and the inhibitory effect of Smad7 on the promoter activity of human alpha2(I) collagen and 3TP-lux was completely impaired in scleroderma fibroblasts. Furthermore, the protein stability of TGF-beta receptor type I was significantly increased in scleroderma fibroblasts compared with normal fibroblasts. There was no significant difference in Smurf1 and Smurf2 levels between normal and scleroderma fibroblasts, and the transiently overexpressed Smurf1 and/or Smurf2 did not affect TGF-beta receptor type I protein levels in scleroderma fibroblasts. These results indicate that the impaired Smad7-Smurf-mediated inhibitory effect on TGF-beta signaling might contribute to maintaining the autocrine TGF-beta loop in scleroderma fibroblasts. To our knowledge, this is the first report of a disturbed negative regulation of TGF-beta signaling in fibrotic disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Blotting, Northern
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Collagen / metabolism
  • Collagen Type I
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / physiology*
  • Densitometry
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Humans
  • Immunoblotting
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Oligonucleotides / genetics
  • Phosphorylation
  • Plasmids / metabolism
  • Precipitin Tests
  • RNA / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Receptors, Transforming Growth Factor beta / metabolism
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Smad7 Protein
  • Time Factors
  • Trans-Activators / metabolism
  • Trans-Activators / physiology*
  • Transfection
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / metabolism*
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta1
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases / metabolism
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases / physiology*


  • Collagen Type I
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Oligonucleotides
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • SMAD7 protein, human
  • Smad7 Protein
  • TGFB1 protein, human
  • Trans-Activators
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta1
  • RNA
  • Collagen
  • SMURF2 protein, human
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases