Henderson NC, et al. Targeting of αv integrin identifies a core molecular pathway that regulates fibrosis in several organs. Nat Med. 2013 [Epub ahead of print]
Myofibroblasts are the major source of extracellular matrix components that accumulate during tissue fibrosis, and hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) are believed to be the major source of myofibroblasts in the liver. To date, robust systems to genetically manipulate these cells have not been developed. We report that Cre under control of the promoter of Pdgfrb (Pdgfrb-Cre) inactivates loxP-flanked genes in mouse HSCs with high efficiency. We used this system to delete the gene encoding αv integrin subunit because various αv-containing integrins have been suggested as central mediators of fibrosis in multiple organs. Such depletion protected mice from carbon tetrachloride–induced hepatic fibrosis, whereas global loss of β3, β5 or β6 integrins or conditional loss of β8 integrins in HSCs did not. We also found that Pdgfrb-Cre effectively targeted myofibroblasts in multiple organs, and depletion of the αv integrin subunit using this system was protective in other models of organ fibrosis, including pulmonary and renal fibrosis. Pharmacological blockade of αv-containing integrins by a small molecule (CWHM 12) attenuated both liver and lung fibrosis, including in a therapeutic manner. These data identify a core pathway that regulates fibrosis and suggest that pharmacological targeting of all αv integrins may have clinical utility in the treatment of patients with a broad range of fibrotic diseases.