Hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) play critical roles in liver fibrosis and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Vitamin D receptor (VDR) activation in HSCs inhibits liver inflammation and fibrosis. We found that p62/SQSTM1, a protein upregulated in liver parenchymal cells but downregulated in HCC-associated HSCs, negatively controls HSC activation. Total body or HSC-specific p62 ablation potentiates HSCs and enhances inflammation, fibrosis, and HCC progression. p62 directly interacts with VDR and RXR promoting their heterodimerization, which is critical for VDR:RXR target gene recruitment. Loss of p62 in HSCs impairs the repression of fibrosis and inflammation by VDR agonists. This demonstrates that p62 is a negative regulator of liver inflammation and fibrosis through its ability to promote VDR signaling in HSCs, whose activation supports HCC.
Keywords: fibrosis; hepatic stellate cells; hepatocellular carcinoma; inflammation; liver cancer; non-alcoholic steatohepatitis; nuclear receptors; p62; sequestosome-1; vitamin D receptor.
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