TGF-β is a master regulator of fibrosis, driving the differentiation of fibroblasts into apoptosis-resistant myofibroblasts and sustaining the production of extracellular matrix (ECM) components. Here, we identified the nuclear long noncoding RNA (lncRNA) H19X as a master regulator of TGF-β–driven tissue fibrosis. H19X was consistently upregulated in a wide variety of human fibrotic tissues and diseases and was strongly induced by TGF-β, particularly in fibroblasts and fibroblast-related cells. Functional experiments following H19X silencing revealed that H19X was an obligatory factor for TGF-β–induced ECM synthesis as well as differentiation and survival of ECM-producing myofibroblasts. We showed that H19X regulates DDIT4L gene expression, specifically interacting with a region upstream of the DDIT4L gene and changing the chromatin accessibility of a DDIT4L enhancer. These events resulted in transcriptional repression of DDIT4L and, in turn, in increased collagen expression and fibrosis. Our results shed light on key effectors of TGF-β–induced ECM remodeling and fibrosis.
Elena Pachera, Shervin Assassi, Gloria A. Salazar, Mara Stellato, Florian Renoux, Adam Wunderlin, Przemyslaw Blyszczuk, Robert Lafyatis, Fina Kurreeman, Jeska de Vries-Bouwstra, Tobias Messemaker, Carol A. Feghali-Bostwick, Gerhard Rogler, Wouter T. van Haaften, Gerard Dijkstra, Fiona Oakley, Maurizio Calcagni, Janine Schniering, Britta Maurer, Jörg H.W. Distler, Gabriela Kania, Mojca Frank-Bertoncelj, Oliver Distler