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Open Access Research

Ha-Ras stabilization mediates pro-fibrotic signals in dermal fibroblasts

Silvia Smaldone1*, Jacopo Olivieri2, Gabriele Luca Gusella3, Gianluca Moroncini2, Armando Gabrielli2 and Francesco Ramirez1

Author Affiliations

1 Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Department of Pharmacology and Systems Therapeutics, One Gustave L Levy Place, Box 1603, New York, NY 10029, USA

2 University of Ancona, Istituto di Patologia Medica e Metodolgia Clinica, Piazza Roma 22, 60121 Ancona, Italy

3 Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Department of Medicine and Nephrology, One Gustave L Levy Place, New York, NY 10029, USA

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Fibrogenesis & Tissue Repair 2011, 4:8  doi:10.1186/1755-1536-4-8

Published: 1 March 2011

Abstract

Background

Scleroderma (systemic sclerosis; SSc) is a clinically heterogeneous and often lethal acquired disorder of the connective tissue that is characterized by vascular, immune/inflammatory and fibrotic manifestations. Tissue fibrosis is the main cause of morbidity and mortality in SSc and an unmet medical challenge, mostly because of our limited understanding of the molecular factors and signalling events that trigger and sustain disease progression. Recent evidence has correlated skin fibrosis in SSc with stabilization of proto-oncogene Ha-Ras secondary to auto-antibody stimulation of reactive oxygen species production. The goal of the present study was to explore the molecular connection between Ha-Ras stabilization and collagen I production, the main read-out of fibrogenesis, in a primary dermal fibroblast culture system that replicates the early stages of disease progression in SSc.

Results

Forced expression of proto-oncogene Ha-Ras in dermal fibroblasts demonstrated the promotion of an immediate collagen I up-regulation, as evidenced by enhanced activity of a collagen I-driven luciferase reporter plasmid and increased accumulation of endogenous collagen I proteins. Moreover, normal levels of Tgfβ transcripts and active transforming growth factor-beta (TGFβ) implied Ha-Ras stimulation of the canonical Smad2/3 signalling pathway independently of TGFβ production or activation. Heightened Smad2/3 signalling was furthermore correlated with greater Smad3 phosphorylation and Smad3 protein accumulation, suggesting that Ha-Ras may target both Smad2/3 activation and turnover. Additional in vitro evidence excluded a contribution of ERK1/2 signalling to improper Smad3 activity and collagen I production in cells that constitutively express Ha-Ras.

Conclusions

Our study shows for the first time that constitutively elevated Ha-Ras protein levels can directly stimulate Smad2/3 signalling and collagen I accumulation independently of TGFβ neo-synthesis and activation. This finding therefore implicates the Ha-Ras pathway with the early onset of fibrosis in SSc and implicitly identifies new therapeutic targets in SSc.