Smad3-dependent and -independent pathways are involved in peritoneal membrane injury
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Transition of peritoneal mesothelial cells to a mesenchymal phenotype plays an integral role in the angiogenic and fibrotic changes seen in the peritoneum of patients receiving long-term peritoneal dialysis. While signaling by transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta through Smad proteins likely causes these changes, it is possible that non-Smad pathways may also play a role. Here, we found that Smad3-deficient mice were protected from peritoneal fibrosis and angiogenesis caused by adenovirus-mediated gene transfer of active TGF-beta1 to mesothelial cells; however, mesothelial transition occurred in this setting, suggesting involvement of non-Smad mechanisms. The phosphatidyl inositol 3 kinase (PI3K) target, Akt, was upregulated in both Smad-deficient and wild-type mice after exposure to TGF-beta1. In vivo inhibition of the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) by rapamycin completely abrogated the transition response in Smad3-deficient but not in wild-type mice. Rapamycin blocked nuclear localization of beta-catenin independent of glycogen synthase kinase 3beta activity. Further, in Smad3-deficient mice rapamycin reduced the expression of alpha-smooth muscle actin, which is an epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition-associated gene. Hence, we conclude that TGF-beta1 causes peritoneal injury through Smad-dependent and Smad-independent pathways; the latter involves redundant mechanisms inhibited by rapamycin, suggesting that suppression of both pathways may be necessary to abrogate mesothelial transition.