Mesothelin/mucin 16 signaling in activated portal fibroblasts regulates cholestatic liver fibrosis
Cholestatic liver fibrosis is caused by obstruction of the biliary tract and is associated with early activation of portal fibroblasts (PFs) that express Thy-1, fibulin 2, and the recently identified marker mesothelin (MSLN). Here, we have demonstrated that activated PFs (aPFs) and myofibroblasts play a critical role in the pathogenesis of liver fibrosis induced by bile duct ligation (BDL). Conditional ablation of MSLN+ aPFs in BDL-injured mice attenuated liver fibrosis by approximately 50%. Similar results were observed in MSLN-deficient mice (Msln–/– mice) or mice deficient in the MSLN ligand mucin 16 (Muc16–/– mice). In vitro analysis revealed that MSLN regulates TGF-β1–inducible activation of WT PFs by disrupting the formation of an inhibitory Thy-1–TGFβRI complex. MSLN also facilitated the FGF-mediated proliferation of WT aPFs. Therapeutic administration of anti-MSLN–blocking Abs attenuated BDL-induced fibrosis in WT mice. Liver specimens from patients with cholestatic liver fibrosis had increased numbers of MSLN+ aPFs/myofibroblasts, suggesting that MSLN may be a potential target for antifibrotic therapy.