A new paper published in Circulation Research used CHPs as a way to study the effects of fibroblast-specific Smad3 loss on collagen fragmentation and denaturation. They found that the FS3KO (fibroblast-specific Smad3 knockout) mice showed much higher collagen degradation (Bottom) than the Smad3 fl/fl (flox/flox) mice (top). They saw that smad3 activated cardiac fibroblasts play an important protective role, preserving the ECM network, suppressing macrophage-driven inflammation, and attenuating cardiomyocyte injury.
Rationale: The heart contains abundant interstitial and perivascular fibroblasts. Traditional views suggest that, under conditions of mechanical stress, cytokines, growth factors, and neurohumoral mediators stimulate fibroblast activation, inducing ECM (extracellular matrix) protein synthesis and promoting fibrosis and diastolic dysfunction. Members of the TGF (transforming growth factor)-β family are upregulated and activated in the remodeling myocardium and modulate phenotype and function of all myocardial cell types through activation of intracellular effector molecules, the Smads (small mothers against decapentaplegic), and through Smad-independent pathways.
Objectives: To examine the role of fibroblast-specific TGF-β/Smad3 signaling in the remodeling pressure-overloaded myocardium.
Methods and Results: We examined the effects of cell-specific Smad3 loss in activated periostin-expressing myofibroblasts using a mouse model of cardiac pressure overload, induced through transverse aortic constriction. Surprisingly, FS3KO (myofibroblast-specific Smad3 knockout) mice exhibited accelerated systolic dysfunction after pressure overload, evidenced by an early 40% reduction in ejection fraction after 7 days of transverse aortic constriction. Accelerated systolic dysfunction in pressure-overloaded FS3KO mice was associated with accentuated matrix degradation and generation of collagen-derived matrikines, accompanied by cardiomyocyte myofibrillar loss and apoptosis, and by enhanced macrophage-driven inflammation. In vitro, TGF-β1, TGF-β2, and TGF-β3 stimulated a Smad3-dependent matrix-preserving phenotype in cardiac fibroblasts, suppressing MMP (matrix metalloproteinase)-3 and MMP-8 synthesis and inducing TIMP (tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases)-1. In vivo, administration of an MMP-8 inhibitor attenuated early systolic dysfunction in pressure-overloaded FS3KO mice, suggesting that the protective effects of activated cardiac myofibroblasts in the pressure-overloaded myocardium are, at least in part, because of suppression of MMPs and activation of a matrix-preserving program. MMP-8 stimulation induces a proinflammatory phenotype in isolated macrophages.
Conclusions: In the pressure-overloaded myocardium, TGF-β/Smad3-activated cardiac fibroblasts play an important protective role, preserving the ECM network, suppressing macrophage-driven inflammation, and attenuating cardiomyocyte injury. The protective actions of the myofibroblasts are mediated, at least in part, through Smad-dependent suppression of matrix-degrading proteases.
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