Rho directs activation-associated changes in rat hepatic stellate cell morphology via regulation of the actin cytoskeleton


  • Hal F. Yee Jr. M.D.,Ph.D.

    Corresponding author
    1. Division of Digestive Diseases and CURE Digestive Diseases Research Center, Department of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA
    • Division of Digestive Diseases, 675 Circle Drive South, Rm 1519 MacDonald Research Laboratories, UCLA School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA 90095. Fax: (310) 206-7333
    Search for more papers by this author


Hepatic stellate cell activation, thought to play a key role in fibrosis of the liver, is characterized by changes in cellular morphology. The intracellular signals regulating morphological alterations associated with stellate cell activation are uncertain. The ras-like guanosine triphosphate–binding protein, rho, has recently emerged as an important regulator of the actin cytoskeleton, and consequently cell morphology. The aim of this study was to test the hypothesis that rho signaling pathways direct activation-associated morphological changes in stellate cells by regulating the actin cytoskeleton. The morphology and actin cytoskeleton of primary rat hepatic stellate cells were studied with phase contrast, differential interference contrast, and epifluorescence microscopy. Immunohistochemistry and immunoblot analysis were used to examine rho expression and activity, respectively. Quiescent and activated stellate cells were investigated in the absence and presence of C3 transferase, a bacterial toxin that specifically inhibits rho. Stellate cell activation was characterized by the development of prominent intracellular fibers, and the loss of dendrite-like processes and perinuclear retinoid droplets. Moreover, activation was accompanied by the formation of prominent actin stress fibers and focal adhesions. Both rho expression and activity were demonstrated in stellate cells. C3 transferase blocked and reversed, both activation-associated morphological alterations and activation-associated changes in the actin cytoskeleton, in quiescent and activated stellate cells, respectively. These results indicate that rho directs activation-associated changes in rat hepatic stellate cell morphology via regulation of the actin cytoskeleton.