Long non-coding RNA HOTAIR drives EZH2-dependent myofibroblast activation in systemic sclerosis through miRNA 34a-dependent activation of NOTCH.


Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is characterised by autoimmune activation, tissue and vascular fibrosis in the skin and internal organs. Tissue fibrosis is driven by myofibroblasts, that are known to maintain their phenotype in vitro, which is associated with epigenetically driven trimethylation of lysine 27 of histone 3 (H3K27me3).Full-thickness skin biopsies were surgically obtained from the forearms of 12 adult patients with SSc of recent onset. Fibroblasts were isolated and cultured in monolayers and protein and RNA extracted. HOX transcript antisense RNA (HOTAIR) was expressed in healthy dermal fibroblasts by lentiviral induction employing a vector containing the specific sequence. Gamma secretase inhibitors were employed to block Notch signalling. Enhancer of zeste 2 (EZH2) was blocked with GSK126 inhibitor.SSc myofibroblasts in vitro and SSc skin biopsies in vivo display high levels of HOTAIR, a scaffold long non-coding RNA known to direct the histone methyltransferase EZH2 to induce H3K27me3 in specific target genes. Overexpression of HOTAIR in dermal fibroblasts induced EZH2-dependent increase in collagen and α-SMA expression in vitro, as well as repression of miRNA-34A expression and consequent NOTCH pathway activation. Consistent with these findings, we show that SSc dermal fibroblast display decreased levels of miRNA-34a in vitro. Further, EZH2 inhibition rescued miRNA-34a levels and mitigated the profibrotic phenotype of both SSc and HOTAIR overexpressing fibroblasts in vitro.Our data indicate that the EZH2-dependent epigenetic phenotype of myofibroblasts is driven by HOTAIR and is linked to miRNA-34a repression-dependent activation of NOTCH signalling.

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