Background & aims: Liver fibrosis is an intrinsic wound-healing response to chronic injury and the major cause of liver-related morbidity and mortality worldwide. However, no effective diagnostic or therapeutic strategies are available, owing to its poorly characterized molecular etiology. We aimed to elucidate the mechanisms underlying liver fibrogenesis.
Methods: We performed a quantitative proteomic analysis of clinical fibrotic liver samples to identify dysregulated proteins. Further analyses were performed on the sera of 164 patients with liver fibrosis. Two fibrosis mouse models and several biochemical experiments were used to elucidate liver fibrogenesis.
Results: We identified cathepsin S (CTSS) up-regulation as a central node for extracellular matrix remodeling in the human fibrotic liver by proteomic screening. Increased serum CTSS levels efficiently predicted liver fibrosis, even at an early stage. Secreted CTSS cleaved collagen 18A1 at its C-terminus, releasing endostatin peptide, which directly bound to and activated hepatic stellate cells via integrin α5β1 signaling, whereas genetic ablation of Ctss remarkably suppressed liver fibrogenesis via endostatin reduction in vivo. Further studies identified macrophages as the main source of hepatic CTSS, and splenectomy effectively attenuated macrophage infiltration and CTSS expression in the fibrotic liver. Pharmacologic inhibition of CTSS ameliorated liver fibrosis progression in the mouse models.
Conclusions: CTSS functions as a novel profibrotic factor by remodeling extracellular matrix proteins and may represent a promising target for the diagnosis and treatment of liver fibrosis.
Keywords: Cathepsin S; Endostatin; Hepatic Stellate Cells; Liver Fibrosis; Macrophage.
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