Endoplasmic reticulum stress-induced hepatic stellate cell apoptosis through calcium-mediated JNK/P38 MAPK and Calpain/Caspase-12 pathways

Mol Cell Biochem. 2014 Sep;394(1-2):1-12. doi: 10.1007/s11010-014-2073-8. Epub 2014 Jun 25.


Recent reports considered that it was the disturbance of calcium homeostasis and the accumulation of misfolded proteins in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) that activated hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) apoptosis and promoted fibrosis resolution. However, the signal-transducing events that are activated by ER stress after HSCs activation were incompletely understood. In this study, we induced ER stress with thapsigargin (TG), and determined the activation of calpain and the cleavage of caspase by analyzing the protein levels and the correspondingly increased intracellular calcium levels and the induction of the proapoptotic transcription factor CHOP. Moreover, the phosphorylation of JNK and p38 MAPK were followed by the activation of the executioner caspases, caspase-3. As expected, preventing an increase in intracellular calcium levels using intracellular calcium chelators, EGTA, and BAPTA/AM, could substantially inhibit the phosphorylation of JNK and p38 MAPK, abolish the activation of calpains, namely caspase-12, caspase-9, and caspase-3, and provide significant protection for TG-treated activated HSCs. Interestingly, pretreatment with p38 MAPK inhibitor SB202190, JNK inhibitor SP600125, the pan-caspase inhibitor z-VAD-FMK, or calpain inhibitors calpeptin, significantly reduced the cell apoptosis and the cleavage of caspase-12 and caspase-3. However, pretreatment with z-VAD-FMK failed to reduce the activation of calpain. Additionally, pretreatment with SB202190 and SP600125 also decreased the expression of CHOP. Importantly, PDGF-induced collagen Col1α1 and α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA), markers for the perpetuation phase of HSCs activation, were inhibited in TG-treated activated HSCs. These findings showed that the Calpain/Caspase-12 activation induced by ER stress and the JNK/p38 MAPK phosphorylation induced by the increase of intracellular calcium concentration releasing from ER are the novel signaling pathway underlying the molecular mechanism of fibrosis recovery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actins / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis* / drug effects
  • Calcium Chelating Agents / pharmacology
  • Calcium Signaling* / drug effects
  • Calpain / metabolism*
  • Caspase 12 / metabolism*
  • Caspase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Cell Line
  • Collagen Type I / metabolism
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / drug effects
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / enzymology*
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / pathology
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress* / drug effects
  • Hepatic Stellate Cells / drug effects
  • Hepatic Stellate Cells / enzymology*
  • Hepatic Stellate Cells / pathology
  • JNK Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • JNK Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / drug therapy
  • Liver Cirrhosis / enzymology*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / genetics
  • Liver Cirrhosis / pathology
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • RNA Interference
  • Rats
  • Thapsigargin / pharmacology
  • Transcription Factor CHOP / genetics
  • Transcription Factor CHOP / metabolism
  • Transfection
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism*


  • Actins
  • Calcium Chelating Agents
  • Caspase Inhibitors
  • Collagen Type I
  • Ddit3 protein, rat
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • collagen type I, alpha 1 chain
  • smooth muscle actin, rat
  • Transcription Factor CHOP
  • Thapsigargin
  • JNK Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • Calpain
  • Casp12 protein, rat
  • Caspase 12