Differential proliferative response of fetal and adult human skin fibroblasts to transforming growth factor-β

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Abstract

Since pronounced differences exist between the fetal and adult repair processes, we studied the proliferative response of skin fibroblasts from these two stages to transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β), a cytokine with a broad range of activities in tissue repair. Here, we present evidence that TGF-β inhibits fetal human skin fibroblasts, while it is stimulatory for adult ones. This proliferative effect of TGF-β was found to be concentration-dependent, but isoform-independent. Furthermore, even a transient exposure of the cells to this growth factor was sufficient to exert its stimulatory or inhibitory action. Accordingly, we have studied the immediate responses provoked by TGF-β in major signaling pathways, and we have found that it induces a rapid activation of the SMAD pathway, i.e., phosphorylation and nuclear translocation of SMAD2, followed by dephosphorylation, most probably due to degradation by the proteasome. However, similar intensity and kinetics of this activation have been observed in both fetal and adult fibroblasts. On the other hand, curcumin, a natural product with wound healing properties that inhibits several intracellular signaling pathways, was found to completely abrogate the inhibitory effect of TGF-β1 on human fetal skin fibroblasts, without affecting the stimulatory action on fibroblasts from adult donors. In conclusion, there is a major radical in the proliferative response of fetal and adult human skin fibroblasts to TGF-β, possibly reflecting the different repair strategies followed in these two stages of development.

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