1. Activated hepatic lipocytes are central to the pathogenesis of liver fibrosis as the principal source of both interstitial collagens and matrix-degrading metalloproteinases. In progressive fibrosis there is a failure to degrade interstitial collagens with a reported decrease in collagenase activity. In these studies we investigate expression of the potent collagenase inhibitor, tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-1, and interstitial collagenase in end-stage autoimmune chronic active hepatitis and activated human hepatic lipocytes in culture.

2. Messenger RNA transcripts for interstitial collagenase and tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-1 in explanted human liver were quantified by ribonuclease protection assay and densitometric analysis. This indicated that tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-1 and interstitial collagenase expression in autoimmune chronic active hepatitis were also co-ordinately up-regulated.

3. Using Northern analysis of RNA from human lipocytes in primary culture on plastic, mRNA for interstitial collagenase could not be detected in unstimulated cells but was present after stimulation with tumour necrosis factor alpha. Tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-1 mRNA was present in unstimulated lipocytes and up-regulated fivefold in response to tumour necrosis factor alpha. Using activity assay of serum-free conditioned media, interstitial collagenase could not be detected in unstimulated primary cultures, primary cultures stimulated with tumour necrosis factor alpha or transforming growth factor beta-1 (n = 3 and n = 4 respectively) or in passaged lipocytes (n = 6). In contrast, free tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-1 activity was present in unstimulated and passaged cultures and this was increased in response to tumour necrosis factor alpha and transforming growth factor beta-1.

4. These data indicate that for culture-activated lipocytes there is a net inhibition of matrix degradation mediated by excess tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-1 expression relative to interstitial collagenase. In autoimmune chronic active hepatitis, our messenger RNA studies demonstrate a similar up-regulation of tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-1 in addition to interstitial collagenase. This may contribute to the accumulation of interstitial collagens and progression of liver fibrosis in this disease.

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