Activation of hepatic stellate cells (HSC) is a key event in the initiation of liver fibrosis. Activated HSCs proliferate and secrete excessive amounts of extracellular matrix (ECM), disturbing liver architecture and function, leading to fibrosis and eventually cirrhosis. Collagen is the most abundant constituent of ECM and proline is the most abundant amino acid of collagen. Arginine is the precursor in the biosynthetic pathway of proline. Arginine is the exclusive substrate of both nitric oxide synthase (NOS) and arginase. NOS is an M1 (proinflammatory) marker of macrophage polarization whereas arginase-1 (Arg1) is an M2 (profibrogenic) marker of macrophage polarization. Differential expression of NOS and Arg1 has not been studied in HSCs yet. To identify the expression profile of arginine catabolic enzymes during HSC activation and to investigate their role in HSC activation, primary rat HSCs were cultured-activated for 7 days and expression of iNOS and Arg1 were investigated. Nor-NOHA was used as a specific and reversible arginase inhibitor. During HSC activation, iNOS expression decreased whereas Arg1 expression increased. Inhibition of Arg1 in activated HSCs efficiently inhibited collagen production but not cell proliferation. HSC activation is accompanied by a switch of arginine catabolism from iNOS to Arg1. Inhibition of Arg1 decreases collagen synthesis. Therefore, we conclude that Arg1 can be a therapeutic target for the inhibition of liver fibrogenesis.
- hepatic stellate cell