Cereblon contributes to the development of pulmonary fibrosis

Pulmonary fibrosis is a progressive and lethal lung disease characterized by the proliferation and differentiation of lung fibroblasts and the accumulation of extracellular matrices. Since pulmonary fibrosis was reported to be associated with adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) activation, which is negatively regulated by cereblon (CRBN), we aimed to determine whether CRBN is involved in the development of pulmonary fibrosis. Therefore, we evaluated the role of CRBN in bleomycin (BLM)-induced pulmonary fibrosis in mice and in transforming growth factor-beta 1 (TGF-β1)-induced differentiation of human lung fibroblasts. BLM-induced fibrosis and the mRNA expression of collagen and fibronectin were increased in the lung tissues of wild-type (WT) mice; however, they were significantly suppressed in Crbn knockout (KO) mice. While the concentrations of TGF-β1/2 in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid were increased via BLM treatment, they were similar between BLM-treated WT and Crbn KO mice. Knockdown of CRBN suppressed TGF-β1-induced activation of small mothers against decapentaplegic 3 (SMAD3), and overexpression of CRBN increased it. TGF-β1-induced activation of SMAD3 increased α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) and collagen levels. CRBN was found to be colocalized with AMPKα1 in lung fibroblasts. CRBN overexpression inactivated AMPKα1.

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Fig: CRBN is necessary for the development of BLM-induced lung fibrosis in mice.

When cells were treated with metformin (an AMPK activator), the CRBN-induced activation of SMAD3 and upregulation of α-SMA and collagen expression were significantly suppressed, suggesting that increased TGF-β1-induced activation of SMAD3 via CRBN overexpression is associated with AMPKα1 inactivation. Taken together, these data suggest that CRBN is a profibrotic regulator and maybe a potential target for treating lung fibrosis.

Kang, H.J., Lee, K.J., Woo, J. et al. Cereblon contributes to the development of pulmonary fibrosis via inactivation of adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase α1. Exp Mol Med (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s12276-021-00619-6

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