Cholestatic liver fibrosis is caused by obstruction of the biliary tract and is associated with early activation of portal fibroblasts (PFs) that express Thy-1, fibulin 2, and the recently identified marker mesothelin (MSLN). Here, we have demonstrated that activated PFs (aPFs) and myofibroblasts play a critical role in the pathogenesis of liver fibrosis induced by bile duct ligation (BDL). Conditional ablation of MSLN+ aPFs in BDL-injured mice attenuated liver fibrosis by approximately 50%. Similar results were observed in MSLN-deficient mice (Msln-/-mice) or mice deficient in the MSLN ligand mucin 16 (Muc16-/-mice). In vitro analysis revealed that MSLN regulates TGF-?1-inducible activation of WT PFs by disrupting the formation of an inhibitory Thy-1-TGF?RI complex. MSLN also facilitated the FGF-mediated proliferation of WT aPFs. Therapeutic administration of anti-MSLN-blocking Abs attenuated BDL-induced fibrosis in WT mice. Liver specimens from patients with cholestatic liver fibrosis had increased numbers of MSLN+ aPFs/myofibroblasts, suggesting that MSLN may be a potential target for antifibrotic therapy.
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