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Abstract

Transdifferentiation of hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) to a myofibroblast-like phenotype is the pivotal event in liver fibrosis. The dramatic change in phenotype associated with transdifferentiation is underpinned by a global change in gene expression. Orchestrated changes in gene expression take place at the level of chromatin packaging which is regulated by enzymatic activity of epigenetic regulators that in turn affect histone modifications. Using expression profiling of epigenetic regulators in quiescent and activated primary HSCs we found a number of histone methyltranferases including MLL1, MLL5, Set1 and ASH1 to be highly up-regulated during transdifferentiation of HSCs. All of these histone methyltranferases regulate methylation of lysine 4 of histone H3, which is a signature of actively transcribed genes. We therefore postulated that one or more of these enzymes may be involved in positively influencing expression of profibrogenic genes. Conclusion: We find that ASH1 directly binds to the regulatory regions of alpha smooth muscle actin (αSMA), collagen I, tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-1 (TIMP1) and transforming growth factor beta1 (TGFβ1) in activated HSCs while depletion of ASH1 caused broad suppression of fibrogenic gene expression. We also discovered that MeCP2 positively regulates ASH1 expression and therefore identify ASH1 as a key transcriptional activator component of the MeCP2 epigenetic relay pathway that orchestrates coordinated induction of multiple profibrogenic genes. (HEPATOLOGY 2012;56:1129–1139)