Background: Ras homolog gene family, member A (RhoA)/Rho-associated coiled-coil forming protein kinase signaling is a key pathway in multiple types of solid organ fibrosis, including intestinal fibrosis. However, the pleiotropic effects of RhoA/Rho-associated coiled-coil forming protein kinase signaling have frustrated targeted drug discovery efforts. Recent recognition of the role of Rho-regulated gene transcription by serum response factor (SRF) and its transcriptional cofactor myocardin-related transcription factor A (MRTF-A) suggest a novel locus for pharmacological intervention.
Methods: Because RhoA signaling is mediated by both physical and biochemical stimuli, we examined whether pharmacological inhibition of RhoA or the downstream transcription pathway of MRTF-A/SRF could block intestinal fibrogenesis in 2 in vitro models.
Results: In this study, we demonstrate that inhibition of RhoA signaling blocks both matrix-stiffness and transforming growth factor beta-induced fibrogenesis in human colonic myofibroblasts. Repression of alpha-smooth muscle actin and collagen expression was associated with the inhibition of MRTF-A nuclear localization. CCG-1423, a first-generation Rho/MRTF/SRF pathway inhibitor, repressed fibrogenesis in both models, yet has unacceptable cytotoxicity. Novel second-generation inhibitors (CCG-100602 and CCG-203971) repressed both matrix-stiffness and transforming growth factor beta-mediated fibrogenesis as determined by protein and gene expression in a dose-dependent manner.
Conclusions: Targeting the Rho/MRTF/SRF mechanism with second-generation Rho/MRTF/SRF inhibitors may represent a novel approach to antifibrotic therapeutics.