In hepatitis, activated hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) produce collagens, causing liver fibrosis. Microenvironmental stiffness is a known trigger of HSC activation and is communicated through mechanotransduction. Cell proliferation, alpha smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) and collagen type Iα (Col1α) are indicative of activated HSCs. We hypothesized that certain compounds could interfere with the HSC's recognition of microenvironmental stiffness by blocking cell adhesion signaling. To verify the potential of mechanotransduction, and in particular of focal adhesion proteins, as liver fibrosis drug targets, we evaluated existing drugs. We examined the effects of the integrin antagonist, BS-1417; the focal adhesion kinase (FAK) inhibitor, defactinib; the cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) inhibitor, roscovitine; and two microtubule modulators, paclitaxel and colchicine, on stiffness-induced HSC activation. To determine the extent of transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) participation in mechanotransduction, we measured gene expression levels of α-SMA and Col1α. We also measured ATP levels to determine cell number. Results revealed that interestingly, although TGF-β did not show additional HSC activation after stiffness stimulation, the TGF-β receptor inhibitor, SB525334, markedly suppressed stiffness-induced α-SMA and Col1α mRNA expression. BS-1417, roscovitine, defactinib and colchicine suppressed α-SMA and Col1α mRNA expression as well as the number of HSCs. Paclitaxel also suppressed stiffness-induced α-SMA mRNA expression and the number of HSCs, but mildly reduced that of Col1α mRNA. Together, these results show that an integrin antagonist and mechanotransduction-targeting drugs reduced stiffness-induced HSC activation in a dose-dependent fashion. The targeting of focal adhesion proteins involved in mechanotransduction is promising in liver fibrosis drug development.
Keywords: drug repositioning; focal adhesion; hepatic stellate cell (HSC); integrin; mechanotransduction; stiffness.