The small heat-shock protein α
B-crystallin is essential for the nuclear localization of Smad4: impact on pulmonary fibrosis
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Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a devastating disease characterized by the proliferation of myofibroblasts and the accumulation of extracellular matrix (ECM) in the lungs. TGF-β1 is the major profibrotic cytokine involved in IPF and is responsible for myofibroblast proliferation and differentiation and ECM synthesis. αB-crystallin is constitutively expressed in the lungs and is inducible by stress, acts as a chaperone and is known to play a role in cell cytoskeleton architecture homeostasis. The role of αB-crystallin in fibrogenesis remains unknown. The principal signalling pathway involved in this process is the Smad-dependent pathway. We demonstrate here that αB-crystallin is strongly expressed in fibrotic lung tissue from IPF patients and in vivo rodent models of pulmonary fibrosis. We also show that αB-crystallin-deficient mice are protected from bleomycin-induced fibrosis. Similar protection from fibrosis was observed in αB-crystallin KO mice after transient adenoviral-mediated over-expression of IL-1β or TGF-β1. We show in vitro in primary epithelial cells and fibroblasts that αB-crystallin increases the nuclear localization of Smad4, thereby enhancing the TGF-β1-Smad pathway and the consequent activation of TGF-β1 downstream genes. αB-crystallin over-expression disrupts Smad4 mono-ubiquitination by interacting with its E3-ubiquitin ligase, TIF1γ, thus limiting its nuclear export. Conversely, in the absence of αB-crystallin, TIF1γ can freely interact with Smad4. Consequently, Smad4 mono-ubiquitination and nuclear export are favoured and thus TGF-β1-Smad4 pro-fibrotic activity is inhibited. This study demonstrates that αB-crystallin may be a key target for the development of specific drugs in the treatment of IPF or other fibrotic diseases.