Cholestasis causes ductular reaction in the liver where the reactive cholangiocytes not only proliferate but also gain a neuroendocrine-like phenotype, leading to inflammatory cell infiltration and extracellular matrix deposition and contributing to the development and progression of cholestatic liver fibrosis. This study aims to elucidate the role of miR-200c in cholestasis-induced biliary liver fibrosis and cholangiocyte activation. We found that miR-200c was extremely abundant in cholangiocytes but was reduced by cholestasis in a bile duct ligation (BDL) mouse model; miR-200c was also decreased by bile acids in vitro. Phenotypically, loss of miR-200c exacerbated cholestatic liver injury, including periductular fibrosis, intrahepatic inflammation, and biliary hyperplasia in both the BDL model and the 3,5-diethoxycarbonyl-1,4-dihydrocollidine (DDC) model. We identified sestrin 1 (SESN1) as a target of miR-200c. Sesn1-/--BDL mice showed mitigation of cholestatic liver injury. On a molecular level, the pro-proliferative IL-6/AKT feedback loop was activated in Mir200c-/- livers but was inhibited in Sesn1-/- livers upon cholestasis in mice. Furthermore, rescuing expression of miR-200c by the adeno-associated virus serotype 8 ameliorated BDL-induced liver injury in Mir200c-/- mice. Taken together, this study demonstrates that miR-200c restrains the proliferative and neuroendocrine-like activation of cholangiocytes by targeting SESN1 and inhibiting the IL-6/AKT feedback loop to protect against cholestatic liver fibrosis. Our findings provide mechanistic insights regarding biliary liver fibrosis, which may help to reveal novel therapeutic targets for the treatment of cholestatic liver injury and liver fibrosis.
© 2021. The Author(s).