Hepatic fibrosis is the result of an excessive wound-healing response subsequent to chronic liver injury. A feature of liver fibrogenesis is the secretion and deposition of extracellular matrix proteins by activated hepatic stellate cells (HSCs). Here we report that upregulation of EphB2 is a prominent feature of two mouse models of hepatic fibrosis and also observed in humans with liver cirrhosis. EphB2 is upregulated and activated in mouse HSCs following chronic carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) exposure. Moreover, we show that EphB2 deficiency attenuates liver fibrosis and inflammation and this is correlated with an overall reduction in pro-fibrotic markers, inflammatory chemokines and cytokines. In an in vitro system of HSCs activation we observed an impaired proliferation and sub-optimal differentiation into fibrogenic myofibroblasts of HSCs isolated from EphB2-/- mice compared to HSCs isolated from wild type mice. This supports the hypothesis that EphB2 promotes liver fibrosis partly via activation of HSCs. Cellular apoptosis which is generally observed during the regression of liver fibrogenesis was increased in liver specimens of CCl4-treated EphB2-/- mice compared to littermate controls. This data is suggestive of an active repair/regeneration system in the absence of EphB2. Altogether, our data validate this novel pro-fibrotic function of EphB2 receptor tyrosine kinase.
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