Postnatal induction of transforming growth factor beta signaling in fibroblasts of mice recapitulates clinical, histologic, and biochemical features of scleroderma

Arthritis Rheum. 2007 Jan;56(1):334-44. doi: 10.1002/art.22328.


Objective: Increased signaling by transforming growth factor beta (TGFbeta) has been implicated in systemic sclerosis (SSc; scleroderma), a complex disorder of connective tissues characterized by excessive accumulation of collagen and other extracellular matrix components in systemic organs. To directly assess the effect of sustained TGFbeta signaling in SSc, we established a novel mouse model in which the TGFbeta signaling pathway is activated in fibroblasts postnatally.

Methods: The mice we used (termed TBR1(CA); Cre-ER mice) harbor both the DNA for an inducible constitutively active TGFbeta receptor I (TGFbetaRI) mutation, which has been targeted to the ROSA locus, and a Cre-ER transgene that is driven by a fibroblast-specific promoter. Administration of 4-hydroxytamoxifen 2 weeks after birth activates the expression of constitutively active TGFbetaRI.

Results: These mice recapitulated clinical, histologic, and biochemical features of human SSc, showing pronounced and generalized fibrosis of the dermis, thinner epidermis, loss of hair follicles, and fibrotic thickening of small blood vessel walls in the lung and kidney. Primary skin fibroblasts from these mice showed elevated expression of downstream TGFbeta targets, reproducing the hallmark biochemical phenotype of explanted SSc dermal fibroblasts. The mouse fibroblasts also showed elevated basal expression of the TGFbeta-regulated promoters plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 and 3TP, increased Smad2/3 phosphorylation, and enhanced myofibroblast differentiation.

Conclusion: Constitutive activation of TGFbeta signaling in fibroblastic cells of mice after birth caused a marked fibrotic phenotype characteristic of SSc. These mice should be excellent models with which to test therapies aimed at correcting excessive TGFbeta signaling in human scleroderma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activin Receptors, Type I / genetics
  • Activin Receptors, Type I / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Female
  • Fibroblasts / drug effects
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism*
  • Fibroblasts / pathology
  • Gene Targeting / methods
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Phosphorylation
  • Plasminogen Activator Inhibitor 1 / metabolism
  • Protein C Inhibitor / metabolism
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Receptor, Transforming Growth Factor-beta Type I
  • Receptors, Transforming Growth Factor beta / genetics
  • Receptors, Transforming Growth Factor beta / metabolism
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / genetics
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / metabolism*
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / pathology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Skin / drug effects
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Skin / pathology
  • Smad2 Protein / metabolism
  • Smad3 Protein / metabolism
  • Tamoxifen / analogs & derivatives
  • Tamoxifen / pharmacology
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / genetics
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / metabolism*


  • Plasminogen Activator Inhibitor 1
  • Protein C Inhibitor
  • Receptors, Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Smad2 Protein
  • Smad2 protein, mouse
  • Smad3 Protein
  • Smad3 protein, mouse
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Tamoxifen
  • afimoxifene
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Activin Receptors, Type I
  • Receptor, Transforming Growth Factor-beta Type I