Metabolic regulation of dermal fibroblasts contributes to skin extracellular matrix homeostasis and fibrosis

Nat Metab. 2019 Jan;1(1):147-157. doi: 10.1038/s42255-018-0008-5. Epub 2019 Jan 7.


Extracellular matrix (ECM) homeostasis is essential for normal tissue function, and its disruption by iatrogenic injury, trauma, or disease results in fibrosis. Skin ECM homeostasis is maintained by a complex process that involves an integration of cytokine and environmental mediators. However, it is unclear, in both normal and disease states, how these multifactorial processes converge to shift ECM homeostasis towards accumulation or degradation. Here we show a consistent downregulation in fatty acid oxidation (FAO) and upregulation of glycolysis in fibrotic skin and in normal skin with abundant ECM. Perturbation of glycolysis and FAO pathway enzymes reveals their reciprocal effects in ECM upregulation and downregulation, respectively. Increasing peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) signalling, an inducer of the FAO pathway, generates a catabolic fibroblast phenotype characterised by inhibition of ECM transcription and enhanced ECM internalization and lysosomal degradation. In contrast, suppression of glycolysis inhibits ECM gene transcription and protein levels, independently of an intact FAO pathway or PPAR signalling. Moreover, we show that CD36, a multifunctional fatty acid transporter, connects the metabolic state of fibroblasts with their capacity for ECM regulation, as internalization and degradation of collagen-1 is abrogated in fibroblasts lacking CD36. Finally, restoring FAO and upregulating CD36 reduces ECM accumulation in murine skin fibrosis. These findings indicate that metabolic perturbation of ECM homeostasis may have broad implications for therapies aimed at ECM regulation, such as fibrosis, regenerative medicine, and ageing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Computational Biology / methods
  • Dermis / cytology*
  • Dermis / metabolism*
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism*
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Glycolysis
  • Homeostasis*
  • Models, Biological


  • Biomarkers

Grant support