Skin fibrosis in systemic sclerosis (SSc) is accompanied by attrition of dermal white adipose tissue (dWAT) and reduced levels of circulating adiponectin. Since adiponectin has potent regulatory effects on fibroblasts, we sought to assess adiponectin signaling in SSc skin biopsies, and evaluate fibrosis in mice with adiponectin gain- and loss-of-function mutations. Furthermore, we investigated the effects and mechanism of action of agonist peptides targeting adiponectin receptors in vitro and in vivo . We found that adiponectin pathway activity was significantly reduced in a subset of SSc skin biopsies. Mice lacking adiponectin mounted an exaggerated dermal fibrotic response, while transgenic mice with constitutively elevated adiponectin showed selective dWAT expansion and protection from skin and peritoneal fibrosis. Adiponectin receptor agonists abrogated ex vivo fibrotic responses in explanted normal and SSc fibroblasts and in 3D human skin equivalents, in part by attenuating focal adhesion complex assembly, and prevented and reversed experimentally-induced organ fibrosis in mice. These results implicate aberrant adiponectin pathway activity in skin fibrosis, identifying a novel function for this pleiotropic adipokine in regulation of tissue remodeling. Restoring adiponectin signaling in SSc patients therefore might represent an innovative pharmacological strategy for intractable organ fibrosis.
Small transmembrane proteins are important for regulation of cellular ion transport. The most prominent among these proteins are members of the FXYD family (FXYD1-12), which regulate Na+ -K+ -ATPase, and phospholamban, sarcolipin, myoregulin, and DWORF, which regulate the sarco-endoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ -ATPase (SERCA). FXYDs and regulators of SERCA are present in fishes, as well as terrestrial vertebrates; however, their evolutionary origins and phylogenetic relationships are obscure, thus hampering comparative physiological studies. Here we discovered that sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus), a representative of extant jawless vertebrates (Cyclostomata), expresses an FXYD homologue, which strongly suggests that FXYDs predate the emergence of fishes and other jawed vertebrates (Gnathostomata). Using a combination of sequence-based phylogenetic analysis and conservation of local chromosome context, we determined that FXYDs markedly diversified in the lineages leading to cartilaginous fishes (Chondricthyes) and bony vertebrates (Euteleostomi). Diversification of SERCA regulators was much less extensive, indicating they operate under different evolutionary constraints. Finally, we found that FXYDs in extant vertebrates can be classified into 13 gene subfamilies, which do not always correspond to the established FXYD classification. We therefore propose a revised classification that is based on evolutionary history of FXYDs and that is consistent across vertebrate species. Collectively, our findings provide an improved framework for investigating the function of ion transport in health and disease.
Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) and agrin, a heparan-sulfate proteoglycan, reside in the basal lamina of the neuromuscular junction (NMJ) and play key roles in cholinergic transmission and synaptogenesis. Unlike most NMJ components, AChE and agrin are expressed in skeletal muscle and [alpha]-motor neurons. AChE and agrin are also expressed in various other types of cells, where they have important alternative functions that are not related to their classical roles in NMJ. In this review, we first focus on co-cultures of embryonic rat spinal cord explants with human skeletal muscle cells as an experimental model to study functional innervation in vitro. We describe how this heterologous rat-human model, which enables experimentation on highly developed contracting human myotubes, offers unique opportunities for AChE and agrin research. We then highlight innovative approaches that were used to address salient questions regarding expression and alternative functions of AChE and agrin in developing human skeletal muscle. Results obtained in co-cultures are compared with those obtained in other models in the context of general advances in the field of AChE and agrin neurobiology.