Hedgehog controls hepatic stellate cell fate by regulating metabolism

Gastroenterology. 2012 Nov;143(5):1319-1329.e11. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2012.07.115. Epub 2012 Aug 8.


Background & aims: The pathogenesis of cirrhosis, a disabling outcome of defective liver repair, involves deregulated accumulation of myofibroblasts derived from quiescent hepatic stellate cells (HSCs), but the mechanisms that control transdifferentiation of HSCs are poorly understood. We investigated whether the Hedgehog (Hh) pathway controls the fate of HSCs by regulating metabolism.

Methods: Microarray, quantitative polymerase chain reaction, and immunoblot analyses were used to identify metabolic genes that were differentially expressed in quiescent vs myofibroblast HSCs. Glycolysis and lactate production were disrupted in HSCs to determine if metabolism influenced transdifferentiation. Hh signaling and hypoxia-inducible factor 1α (HIF1α) activity were altered to identify factors that alter glycolytic activity. Changes in expression of genes that regulate glycolysis were quantified and localized in biopsy samples from patients with cirrhosis and liver samples from mice following administration of CCl(4) or bile duct ligation. Mice were given systemic inhibitors of Hh to determine if they affect glycolytic activity of the hepatic stroma; Hh signaling was also conditionally disrupted in myofibroblasts to determine the effects of glycolytic activity.

Results: Transdifferentiation of cultured, quiescent HSCs into myofibroblasts induced glycolysis and caused lactate accumulation. Increased expression of genes that regulate glycolysis required Hh signaling and involved induction of HIF1α. Inhibitors of Hh signaling, HIF1α, glycolysis, or lactate accumulation converted myofibroblasts to quiescent HSCs. In diseased livers of animals and patients, numbers of glycolytic stromal cells were associated with the severity of fibrosis. Conditional disruption of Hh signaling in myofibroblasts reduced numbers of glycolytic myofibroblasts and liver fibrosis in mice; similar effects were observed following administration of pharmacologic inhibitors of Hh.

Conclusions: Hedgehog signaling controls the fate of HSCs by regulating metabolism. These findings might be applied to diagnosis and treatment of patients with cirrhosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Actins / genetics
  • Actins / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Bile Ducts
  • Carbon Tetrachloride
  • Cell Transdifferentiation / genetics*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Glycolysis / genetics
  • Hedgehog Proteins / genetics*
  • Hedgehog Proteins / metabolism*
  • Hepatic Stellate Cells / cytology
  • Hepatic Stellate Cells / enzymology
  • Hepatic Stellate Cells / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit
  • Lactic Acid / metabolism
  • Ligation
  • Liver Cirrhosis / chemically induced
  • Liver Cirrhosis / genetics
  • Liver Cirrhosis / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mitochondria
  • Myofibroblasts / enzymology
  • Myofibroblasts / metabolism*
  • Pyruvate Kinase / genetics
  • Pyruvate Kinase / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Signal Transduction / genetics*
  • Time Factors


  • Actins
  • Hedgehog Proteins
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit
  • RNA, Messenger
  • alpha-smooth muscle actin, mouse
  • Lactic Acid
  • Carbon Tetrachloride
  • Pyruvate Kinase