Research ArticleFibrosis

Reversal of Persistent Fibrosis in Aging by Targeting Nox4-Nrf2 Redox Imbalance

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Science Translational Medicine  09 Apr 2014:
Vol. 6, Issue 231, pp. 231ra47
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3008182

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Scarred for Life?

Fibrosis or “scarring” of vital internal organs is an increasing cause of debilitation and death worldwide. The risk of organ fibrosis increases with age, accounting for a growing “epidemic” of fibrotic disorders in aging populations such as in the United States. A study by Hecker et al. provides new insights into how the aging process may lead to a predisposition to fibrosis. In a mouse model of injury-induced lung fibrosis, these investigators found that the ability to resolve fibrosis was impaired in aged mice compared to young cohorts. Resolution of fibrosis is normally dependent on a process known as “apoptosis” (or programmed cell death) of myofibroblasts in injured tissues; this normal wound-healing response was found to be less efficient in aged mice. Myofibroblasts from aged mice acquired a prolonged senescent and apoptosis-resistant phenotype, which was attributed to an imbalance between the oxidant-generating enzyme Nox4 [reduced form of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) oxidase-4] and the antioxidant response factor Nrf2 (NFE2-related factor 2). Genetic or pharmacologic approaches to suppress the expression or activation of Nox4 in aged mice with persistent fibrosis enhanced the capacity for fibrosis resolution. There was evidence for Nox4-Nrf2 imbalance and apoptosis-resistant behavior of myofibroblasts in the lungs of human subjects with the progressive and fatal fibrotic disorder idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

The results of these studies improve our understanding of how and why elderly patients become susceptible to progressive fibrotic disorders, such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Additionally, this study uncovers new approaches for treating fibrotic disorders by targeting the “stubborn” and apoptosis-resistant myofibroblast.