During liver fibrogenesis, quiescent HSC (hepatic stellate cells) become active, a transformation that is associated with enhanced cell proliferation and overproduction of ECM (extracellular matrix). Inhibition of cell proliferation and induction of apoptosis are potential strategies to block the activation of HSC for the prevention and treatment of liver fibrosis. Levels of PPARγ (peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ) are dramatically diminished in parallel with HSC activation. Stimulation of PPARγ by its agonists inhibits HSC activation in vitro and in vivo. We demonstrated recently that curcumin, the yellow pigment in curry, inhibited HSC activation in vitro, reducing cell proliferation, inducing apoptosis and inhibiting ECM gene expression. Further studies indicated that curcumin induced the gene expression of PPARγ and stimulated its activity in activated HSC in vitro, which was required for curcumin to inhibit HSC proliferation. The aims of the present study were to evaluate the roles of PPARγ activation in the induction of apoptosis and suppression of ECM gene expression by curcumin in activated HSC, and to elucidate the underlying mechanisms. Our results demonstrated that blocking PPARγ activation abrogated the effects of curcumin on the induction of apoptosis and inhibition of the expression of ECM genes in activated HSC in vitro. Further experiments demonstrated that curcumin suppressed the gene expression of TGF-β (transforming growth factor-β) receptors and interrupted the TGF-β signalling pathway in activated HSC, which was mediated by PPARγ activation. Taken together, our results demonstrate that curcumin stimulated PPARγ activity in activated HSC in vitro, which was required for curcumin to reduce cell proliferation, induce apoptosis and suppress ECM gene expression. These results provide novel insight into the mechanisms responsible for the inhibition of HSC activation by curcumin. The characteristics of curcumin, which has no adverse health effects, make it a potential candidate for prevention and treatment of hepatic fibrosis.

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