Huangqi Decoction (HQD), a classical traditional Chinese medicine formula, has been used as a valid treatment for alleviating liver fibrosis; however, the underlying molecular mechanism is still unknown. Although our previous studies showed that microRNA-663a (miR-663a) suppresses the proliferation and activation of hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) and the transforming growth factor-β/small mothers against decapentaplegic (TGF-β/Smad) pathway, whether long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) are involved in HSC activation via the miR-663a/TGF-β/Smad signaling pathway has not yet reported. The present study aimed to investigate the roles of lncRNA lnc-C18orf26-1 in the activation of HSCs and the mechanism by which HQD inhibits hepatic fibrosis.
The expression levels of lnc-C18orf26-1, miR-663a and related genes were measured by quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction. HSCs were transfected with the miR-663a mimic or inhibitor and lnc-C18orf26-1 small interfering RNAs. The water-soluble tetrazolium salt-1 assay was used to assess the proliferation rate of HSCs. Changes in lncRNA expression were evaluated in miR-663a-overexpressing HSCs by using microarray to identify miR-663a-regulated lncRNAs. RNA hybrid was used to predict the potential miR-663a binding sites on lncRNAs. Luciferase reporter assays further confirmed the interaction between miR-663a and the lncRNA. The expression levels of collagen α-2(I) chain (COL1A2), α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) and TGF-β/Smad signaling pathway-related proteins were determined using Western blotting.
Lnc-C18orf26-1 was upregulated in TGF-β1-activated HSCs and competitively bound to miR-663a. Knockdown of lnc-C18orf26-1 inhibited HSC proliferation and activation, downregulated TGF-β1-stimulated α-SMA and COL1A2 expression, and inhibited the TGF-β1/Smad signaling pathway. HQD suppressed the proliferation and activation of HSCs. HQD increased miR-663a expression and decreased lnc-C18orf26-1 expression in HSCs. Further studies showed that HQD inhibited the expression of COL1A2, α-SMA, TGF-β1, TGF-β type I receptor (TGF-βRI) and phosphorylated Smad2 (p-Smad2) in HSCs, and these effects were reversed by miR-663a inhibitor treatment.
Our study identified lnc-C18orf26-1 and miR-663a as promising therapeutic targets for hepatic fibrosis. HQD inhibits HSC proliferation and activation at least partially by regulating the lnc-C18orf26-1/miR-663a/TGF-β1/TGF-βRI/p-Smad2 axis.