Background and aims: Antifibrotic therapy remains an unmet medical need in human chronic liver disease. We report the antifibrotic properties of cytoglobin (CYGB), a respiratory protein expressed in hepatic stellate cells (HSCs), the main cell type involved in liver fibrosis.
Approach and results: Cygb-deficient mice that had bile duct ligation-induced liver cholestasis or choline-deficient amino acid-defined diet-induced steatohepatitis significantly exacerbated liver damage, fibrosis, and reactive oxygen species (ROS) formation. All of these manifestations were attenuated in Cygb-overexpressing mice. We produced hexa histidine-tagged recombinant human CYGB (His-CYGB), traced its biodistribution, and assessed its function in HSCs or in mice with advanced liver cirrhosis using thioacetamide (TAA) or 3,5-diethoxycarbonyl-1,4-dihydrocollidine (DDC). In cultured HSCs, extracellular His-CYGB was endocytosed and accumulated in endosomes through a clathrin-mediated pathway. His-CYGB significantly impeded ROS formation spontaneously or in the presence of ROS inducers in HSCs, thus leading to the attenuation of collagen type 1 alpha 1 production and α-smooth muscle actin expression. Replacement the iron center of the heme group with cobalt nullified the effect of His-CYGB. In addition, His-CYGB induced interferon-β secretion by HSCs that partly contributed to its antifibrotic function. Momelotinib incompletely reversed the effect of His-CYGB. Intravenously injected His-CYGB markedly suppressed liver inflammation, fibrosis, and oxidative cell damage in mice administered TAA or DDC mice without adverse effects. RNA-sequencing analysis revealed the down-regulation of inflammation- and fibrosis-related genes and the up-regulation of antioxidant genes in both cell culture and liver tissues. The injected His-CYGB predominantly localized to HSCs but not to macrophages, suggesting specific targeting effects. His-CYGB exhibited no toxicity in chimeric mice with humanized livers.
Conclusions: His-CYGB could have antifibrotic clinical applications for human chronic liver diseases.
© 2021 The Authors. Hepatology published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.