Increased fibrosis is a characteristic remodeling response to biomechanical and neurohumoral stress and a determinant of cardiac mechanical and electrical dysfunction in disease. Stress-induced activation of cardiac fibroblasts (CFs) is a critical step in the fibrotic response, although the precise sequence of events underlying activation of these critical cells in vivo remain unclear. Here, we tested the hypothesis that a βIV-spectrin/STAT3 complex is essential for maintenance of a quiescent phenotype (basal nonactivated state) in CFs. We reported increased fibrosis, decreased cardiac function, and electrical impulse conduction defects in genetic and acquired mouse models of βIV-spectrin deficiency. Loss of βIV-spectrin function promoted STAT3 nuclear accumulation and transcriptional activity, and it altered gene expression and CF activation. Furthermore, we demonstrate that a quiescent phenotype may be restored in βIV-spectrin-deficient fibroblasts by expressing a βIV-spectrin fragment including the STAT3-binding domain or through pharmacological STAT3 inhibition. We found that in vivo STAT3 inhibition abrogates fibrosis and cardiac dysfunction in the setting of global βIV-spectrin deficiency. Finally, we demonstrate that fibroblast-specific deletion of βIV-spectrin is sufficient to induce fibrosis and decreased cardiac function. We propose that the βIV-spectrin/STAT3 complex is a determinant of fibroblast phenotype and fibrosis, with implications for remodeling response in cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Keywords: Cardiology; Cell Biology; Cytoskeleton; Fibrosis; Heart failure.