Combined Blockade of Smad3 and JNK Pathways Ameliorates Progressive Fibrosis in Folic Acid Nephropathy

Mengjie Jiang, Jinjin Fan, Xinli Qu, Songhui Li, Susan K. Nilsson, Yu Bo Yang Sun, Yaping Chen, Di Yu, Dan Liu, Bi-Cheng Liu, Mingliang Tang, Wei Chen, Yi Ren, David J. Nikolic-Paterson, Xiaoyun Jiang, Jinhua Li, Xueqing Yu

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20 Citations (Scopus)


Acute kidney injury leading to chronic kidney disease through tubulointerstitial fibrosis is a major challenge in nephropathy. Several signaling pathways promote interstitial fibrosis; however, effective suppression of fibrosis may require blockade of more than one pathway. This study investigated whether blockade of Smad3 and c-Jun N-Terminal kinase (JNK) signaling gives added suppression of interstitial fibrosis in folic acid nephropathy. A single high dose of folic acid (FA) causes acute tubular damage in C57BL/6J mice followed by interstitial fibrosis and chronic renal impairment. Co-Activations of Smad3 and JNK signaling occur in both tubular epithelial cells and myofibroblasts in areas of tubulointerstitial damage and fibrosis in both murine FA-induced nephropathy and human IgA nephropathy. Groups of mice were treated with a Smad3 inhibitor (SIS3), a JNK inhibitor (SP600125), or a combination from day 6 after FA administration until being killed on day 28. Each drug efficiently inhibited its specific target (Smad3 phosphorylation or c-Jun phosphorylation) without affecting the other pathway. Given alone, each drug partially reduced renal fibrosis, whereas the combination therapy gave an additive and profound protection from renal fibrosis and improved renal function. Inhibition of Smad3 and/or JNK signaling activities prevented down-regulation of PGC-1α in tubular epithelial cells and up-regulation of PGC-1α in myofibroblasts during FA-induced renal fibrosis and inflammation. The expression of PGC-1α was upregulated in Smad3-/- NRK52E cells while downregulated in Smad3-/-NRK49F cells, suggesting that Smad3 signaling may regulate expression of PGC-1α in renal tubular epithelial cells and fibroblasts in distinct fashion. In vivo and cell culture studies also indicate that Smad3 and JNK signaling cooperate to cause mitochondrial dysfunction and cell damage in tubular epithelial cells via direct actions on the transcription of PGC-1α. These pathways also act cooperatively to promote renal fibroblast proliferation in tempo-spatial fashion. In conclusion, we have identified a potential combination therapy for progressive renal fibrosis which operates, in part, through modifying mitochondrial function.

Original languageEnglish
Article number880
Number of pages17
JournalFrontiers in Pharmacology
Publication statusPublished - 9 Aug 2019


  • JNK1/2
  • Mitochondrial dysfunction
  • PGC-1α
  • SMAD3
  • Tubulointerstitial fibrosis

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