During wound healing, fibroblasts transition from quiescence to a migratory state, then to a contractile myofibroblast state associated with wound closure. We found that the myofibroblast phenotype, characterized by the expression of high levels of contractile proteins, suppresses the expression of the pro-migratory gene, MMP-2. Fibroblasts cultured in a 3-D collagen lattice and allowed to develop tension showed increased contractile protein expression and decreased MMP-2 levels in comparison to a stress-released lattice. In 2-D cultures, factors that promote fibroblast contractility, including serum or TGF-β, down-regulated MMP-2. Pharmacologically inducing F-actin disassembly or reduced contractility increased MMP-2 expression, while conditions that promote F-actin assembly suppressed MMP-2 expression. In all cases, changes in MMP-2 levels were inversely related to changes in the contractile marker, smooth muscle α-actin. To determine if the mechanisms involved in contractile protein gene expression play a direct role in MMP-2 regulation, we used RNAi-mediated knock-down of the myocardin-like factors, MRTF-A and MRTF-B, which induced the down-regulation of contractile protein genes by fibroblasts under both serum-containing and serum-free conditions. In the presence of serum or TGF-β, MRTF-A/B knock-down resulted in the up-regulation of MMP-2; serum-free conditions prevented this increased expression. Together, these results indicate that, while MMP-2 expression is suppressed by F-actin formation, its up-regulation is not simply a consequence of contractile protein down-regulation.
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