NUAK1 promotes organ fibrosis via YAP and TGF-β/SMAD signaling

This article was originally published here

Sci Transl Med. 2022 Mar 23;14(637):eaaz4028. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aaz4028. Epub 2022 Mar 23.


Fibrosis is a central pathway that drives progression of multiple chronic diseases, yet few safe and effective clinical antifibrotic therapies exist. In most fibrotic disorders, transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β)-driven scarring is an important pathologic feature and a key contributor to disease progression. Yes-associated protein (YAP) and transcriptional coactivator with PDZ-binding motif (TAZ) are two closely related transcription cofactors that are important for coordinating fibrogenesis after organ injury, but how they are activated in response to tissue injury has, so far, remained unclear. Here, we describe NUAK family kinase 1 (NUAK1) as a TGF-β-inducible profibrotic kinase that is up-regulated in multiple fibrotic organs in mice and humans. Mechanistically, we show that TGF-β induces a rapid increase in NUAK1 in fibroblasts. NUAK1, in turn, can promote profibrotic YAP and TGF-β/SMAD signaling, ultimately leading to organ scarring. Moreover, activated YAP and TAZ can induce further NUAK1 expression, creating a profibrotic positive feedback loop that enables persistent fibrosis. Using mouse models of kidney, lung, and liver fibrosis, we demonstrate that this fibrogenic signaling loop can be interrupted via fibroblast-specific loss of NUAK1 expression, leading to marked attenuation of fibrosis. Pharmacologic NUAK1 inhibition also reduced scarring, either when initiated immediately after injury or when initiated after fibrosis was already established. Together, our data suggest that NUAK1 plays a critical, previously unrecognized role in fibrogenesis and represents an attractive target for strategies that aim to slow fibrotic disease progression.

PMID:35320001 | DOI:10.1126/scitranslmed.aaz4028