Chronic kidney disease is characterized by interstitial fibrosis and proliferation of scar-secreting myofibroblasts, ultimately leading to end-stage renal disease. The hedgehog (Hh) pathway transcriptional effectors GLI1 and GLI2 are expressed in myofibroblast progenitors; however, the role of these effectors during fibrogenesis is poorly understood. Here, we demonstrated that GLI2, but not GLI1, drives myofibroblast cell-cycle progression in cultured mesenchymal stem cell–like progenitors. In animals exposed to unilateral ureteral obstruction, Hh pathway suppression by expression of the GLI3 repressor in GLI1+ myofibroblast progenitors limited kidney fibrosis. Myofibroblast-specific deletion of Gli2, but not Gli1, also limited kidney fibrosis, and induction of myofibroblast-specific cell-cycle arrest mediated this inhibition. Pharmacologic targeting of this pathway with darinaparsin, an arsenical in clinical trials, reduced fibrosis through reduction of GLI2 protein levels and subsequent cell-cycle arrest in myofibroblasts. GLI2 overexpression rescued the cell-cycle effect of darinaparsin in vitro. While darinaparsin ameliorated fibrosis in WT and Gli1-KO mice, it was not effective in conditional Gli2-KO mice, supporting GLI2 as a direct darinaparsin target. The GLI inhibitor GANT61 also reduced fibrosis in mice. Finally, GLI1 and GLI2 were upregulated in the kidneys of patients with high-grade fibrosis. Together, these data indicate that GLI inhibition has potential as a therapeutic strategy to limit myofibroblast proliferation in kidney fibrosis.


Rafael Kramann, Susanne V. Fleig, Rebekka K. Schneider, Steven L. Fabian, Derek P. DiRocco, Omar Maarouf, Janewit Wongboonsin, Yoichiro Ikeda, Dirk Heckl, Steven L. Chang, Helmut G. Rennke, Sushrut S. Waikar, Benjamin D. Humphreys


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