Autophagy and the unfolded protein response (UPR) both promote activation of hepatic stellate cells (HSC), however the link between the two stimuli remains unclear. Here we have explored the role of X-box binding protein 1 (XBP1), one of three UPR effector pathways and sought to establish the interdependence between autophagy and the UPR during HSC activation. XBP1 induction accompanied both culture-based HSC activation and ER stress induced by tunicamycin. Ectopic overexpression of XBP1 induced collagen 1-alpha expression in HSCs, which was inhibited by knockdown of ATG7, a critical autophagy mediator. Genome-wide transcriptomic profiling indicated an upregulation of collagen synthesis pathways, but not of the transforming growth factor (TGF)-b pathway, a canonical fibrogenic driver, suggesting that XBP1 activates a specific subset of fibrogenesis pathways independent of TGF-β1. XBP1 target gene signatures were significantly induced in rodent liver fibrosis models (n = 3-5) and in human samples of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) (n = 72-135). Thus, XBP1-mediated UPR contributes to fibrogenic HSC activation and is functionally linked to cellular autophagy.
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