Journal of hepatology

Cross-talk between autophagy and KLF2 determines endothelial cell phenotype and microvascular function in acute liver injury.

PMID 27545498


The transcription factor Krüppel-like factor 2 (KLF2), inducible by simvastatin, confers endothelial vasoprotection. Considering recent data suggesting activation of autophagy by statins, we aimed to: 1) characterize the relationship between autophagy and KLF2 in the endothelium, 2) assess this relationship in acute liver injury (cold ischemia/reperfusion) and 3) study the effects of modulating KLF2-autophagy in vitro and in vivo. Autophagic flux, the vasoprotective KLF2 pathway, cell viability and microvascular function were assessed in endothelial cells and in various pre-clinical models of acute liver injury (cold storage and warm reperfusion). Positive feedback between autophagy and KLF2 was observed in the endothelium: KLF2 inducers, pharmacological (statins, resveratrol, GGTI-298), biomechanical (shear stress) or genetic (adenovirus containing KLF2), caused endothelial KLF2 overexpression through a Rac1-rab7-autophagy dependent mechanism, both in the specialized liver sinusoidal endothelial cells (LSEC) and in human umbilical vein endothelial cells. In turn, KLF2 induction promoted further activation of autophagy. Cold ischemia blunted autophagic flux. Upon reperfusion, LSEC stored in University of Wisconsin solution did not reactivate autophagy, which resulted in autophagosome accumulation probably due to impairment in autophagosome-lysosome fusion, ultimately leading to increased cell death and microvascular dysfunction. Simvastatin pretreatment maintained autophagy (through the upregulation of rab7), resulting in increased KLF2, improved cell viability, and ameliorated hepatic damage and microvascular function. We herein describe for the first time the complex autophagy-KLF2 relationship, modulating the phenotype and survival of the endothelium. These results help understanding the mechanisms of protection conferred by KLF2-inducers, such as simvastatin, in hepatic vascular disorders. Autophagy and the transcription factor KLF2 share a common activation pathway in the endothelium, being able to regulate each other. Statins maintain microvascular function through the inhibition of Rac1, which consequently liberates Rab7, activates autophagy and increments the expression of KLF2.

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