Tumor Necrosis Factor–Like Weak Inducer of Apoptosis Is a Mitogen for Liver Progenitor Cells
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Liver progenitor cells (LPCs) represent the cell compartment facilitating hepatic regeneration during chronic injury while hepatocyte-mediated repair mechanisms are compromised. LPC proliferation is frequently observed in human chronic liver diseases such as hereditary hemochromatosis, fatty liver disease, and chronic hepatitis. In vivo studies have suggested that a tumor necrosis factor family member, tumor necrosis factor–like weak inducer of apoptosis (TWEAK), is promitotic for LPCs; whether it acts directly is not known. In our murine choline-deficient, ethionine-supplemented (CDE) model of chronic liver injury, TWEAK receptor [fibroblast growth factor-inducible 14 (Fn14)] expression in the whole liver is massively upregulated. We therefore set out to investigate whether TWEAK/Fn14 signaling promotes the regenerative response in CDE-induced chronic liver injury by mitotic stimulation of LPCs. Fn14 knockout (KO) mice showed significantly reduced LPC numbers and attenuated inflammation and cytokine production after 2 weeks of CDE feeding. The close association between LPC proliferation and activation of hepatic stellate cells in chronic liver injury prompted us to investigate whether fibrogenesis was also modulated in Fn14 KO animals. Collagen deposition and expression of key fibrogenesis mediators were reduced after 2 weeks of injury, and this correlated with LPC numbers. Furthermore, the injection of 2-week-CDE-treated wildtype animals with TWEAK led to increased proliferation of nonparenchymal pan cytokeratin–positive cells. Stimulation of an Fn14-positive LPC line with TWEAK led to nuclear factor kappa light chain enhancer of activated B cells (NFκB) activation and dose-dependent proliferation, which was diminished after targeting of the p50 NFκB subunit by RNA interference. Conclusion: TWEAK acts directly and stimulates LPC mitosis in an Fn14-dependent and NFκB-dependent fashion, and signaling via this pathway mediates the LPC response to CDE-induced injury and regeneration.
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