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Open Access Research

Autocrine transforming growth factor β signaling regulates extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 phosphorylation via modulation of protein phosphatase 2A expression in scleroderma fibroblasts

Glady H Samuel12, Andreea M Bujor1, Sashidhar S Nakerakanti1, Faye N Hant2 and Maria Trojanowska1*

Author Affiliations

1 Arthritis Center, Division of Rheumatology, Boston University Medical Campus, Boston, MA, USA

2 Division of Rheumatology and Immunology, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina, USA

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Fibrogenesis & Tissue Repair 2010, 3:25  doi:10.1186/1755-1536-3-25

Published: 6 December 2010

Abstract

Background

During scleroderma (SSc) pathogenesis, fibroblasts acquire an activated phenotype characterized by enhanced production of extracellular matrix (ECM) and constitutive activation of several major signaling pathways including extracellular signal-related kinase (ERK1/2). Several studies have addressed the role of ERK1/2 in SSc fibrosis however the mechanism of its prolonged activation in SSc fibroblasts is still unknown. Protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A) is a key serine threonine phosphatase responsible for dephosphorylation of a wide array of signaling molecules. Recently published microarray data from cultured SSc fibroblasts suggests that the catalytic subunit (C-subunit) of PP2A is downregulated in SSc. In this study we examined the role and regulation of PP2A in SSc fibroblasts in the context of ERK1/2 phosphorylation and matrix production.

Results

We show for the first time that PP2A mRNA and protein expression are significantly reduced in SSc fibroblasts and correlate with an increase in ERK1/2 phosphorylation and collagen expression. Furthermore, transforming growth factor β (TGFβ), a major profibrotic cytokine implicated in SSc fibrosis, downregulates PP2A expression in healthy fibroblasts. PP2A-specific small interfering RNA (siRNA) was utilized to confirm the role of PP2A in ERK1/2 dephosphorylation in dermal fibroblasts. Accordingly, blockade of autocrine TGFβ signaling in SSc fibroblasts using soluble recombinant TGFβ receptor II (SRII) restored PP2A levels and decreased ERK1/2 phosphorylation and collagen expression. In addition, we observed that inhibition of ERK1/2 in SSc fibroblasts increased PP2A expression suggesting that ERK1/2 phosphorylation also contributes to maintaining low levels of PP2A, leading to an even further amplification of ERK1/2 phosphorylation.

Conclusions

Taken together, these studies suggest that decreased PP2A levels in SSc is a result of constitutively activated autocrine TGFβ signaling and could contribute to enhanced phosphorylation of ERK1/2 and matrix production in SSc fibroblasts.