Open Access Open Badges Research article

Bosentan reverses the pro-fibrotic phenotype of systemic sclerosis dermal fibroblasts via increasing DNA binding ability of transcription factor Fli1

Kaname Akamata, Yoshihide Asano*, Naohiko Aozasa, Shinji Noda, Takashi Taniguchi, Takehiro Takahashi, Yohei Ichimura, Tetsuo Toyama and Shinichi Sato

Author Affiliations

Department of Dermatology, University of Tokyo Graduate School of Medicine, 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-8655, Japan

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2014, 16:R86  doi:10.1186/ar4529

Published: 3 April 2014



Although the pathogenesis of systemic sclerosis (SSc) still remains unknown, recent studies have demonstrated that endothelins are deeply involved in the developmental process of fibrosis and vasculopathy associated with SSc, and a dual endothelin receptor antagonist, bosentan, has a potential to serve as a disease modifying drug for this disorder. Importantly, endothelin-1 (ET-1) exerts a pro-fibrotic effect on normal dermal fibroblasts and bosentan reverses the pro-fibrotic phenotype of SSc dermal fibroblasts. The purpose of this study was to clarify the details of molecular mechanisms underlying the effects of ET-1 and bosentan on dermal fibroblasts, which have not been well studied.


The mRNA levels of target genes and the expression and phosphorylation levels of target proteins were determined by reverse transcription real-time PCR and immunoblotting, respectively. Promoter assays were performed using a sequential deletion of human α2 (I) collagen (COL1A2) promoter. DNA affinity precipitation and chromatin immunoprecipitation were employed to evaluate the DNA binding ability of Fli1. Fli1 protein levels in murine skin were evaluated by immunostaining.


In normal fibroblasts, ET-1 activated c-Abl and protein kinase C (PKC)-δ and induced Fli1 phosphorylation at threonine 312, leading to the decreased DNA binding of Fli1, a potent repressor of the COL1A2 gene, and the increase in type I collagen expression. On the other hand, bosentan reduced the expression of c-Abl and PKC-δ, the nuclear localization of PKC-δ, and Fli1 phosphorylation, resulting in the increased DNA binding of Fli1 and the suppression of type I collagen expression in SSc fibroblasts. In bleomycin-treated mice, bosentan prevented dermal fibrosis and increased Fli1 expression in lesional dermal fibroblasts.


ET-1 exerts a potent pro-fibrotic effect on normal fibroblasts by activating “c-Abl - PKC-δ - Fli1” pathway. Bosentan reverses the pro-fibrotic phenotype of SSc fibroblasts and prevents the development of dermal fibrosis in bleomycin-treated mice by blocking this signaling pathway. Although the efficacy of bosentan for dermal and pulmonary fibrosis is limited in SSc, the present observation definitely provides us with a useful clue to further explore the potential of the upcoming new dual endothelin receptor antagonists as disease modifying drugs for SSc.