Simvastatin reduces TGF-β1-induced SMAD2/3-dependent human ventricular fibroblasts differentiation: Role of protein phosphatase activation


Center for Integrative Research on Cardiovascular Aging (CIRCA), Aurora Research Institute

Aurora Cardiovascular Services, Aurora Sinai/Aurora St. Luke's Medical Centers



Excessive cardiac fibrosis due to maladaptive remodeling leads to progression of cardiac dysfunction and is modulated by TGF-β1-activated intracellular phospho-SMAD signaling effectors and transcription regulators. SMAD2/3 phosphorylation, regulated by protein-phosphatases, has been studied in different cell types, but its role in human ventricular fibroblasts (hVFs) is not defined as a target to reduce cytokine-mediated excessive fibroticresponse and adverse cardiac remodeling. Statins are a class of drugs reported to reduce cardiac fibrosis, although underlying mechanisms are not completely understood. We aimed to assess whether simvastatin-mediated reduction in TGF-β1-augmented profibrotic response involves reduction in phospho-SMAD2/3 owing to activation of protein-phosphatase in hVFs.

Methods and results

Cultures of hVFs were used. Effect of simvastatin on TGF-β1-treated hVF proliferation, cytotoxicity, myofibroblast differentiation/activation, profibrotic gene expression and protein-phosphatase activity was assessed. Simvastatin (1 μM) reduced effect of TGF-β1 (5 ng/mL) on hVF proliferation, myofibroblast differentiation (reduced α-smooth muscle actin [α-SMA-expression]) and activation (decreased procollagen-peptide release). Simvastatin also reduced TGF-β1-stimulated time-dependent increases in SMAD2/3 phosphorylation and nuclear translocation, mediated through catalytic activation of protein-phosphatases PPM1A and PP2A, which physically interact with SMAD2/3, thereby promoting their dephosphorylation. Effect of simvastatin on TGF-β1-induced fibroblast activation was annulled by okadaic acid, an inhibitor of protein-phosphatase.


This proof-of-concept study using an in vitro experimental cell culture model identifies the protective role of simvastatin against TGF-β1-induced hVF transformation into activated myofibroblasts through activation of protein phosphatase, a novel target that can be therapeutically modulated to curb excessive cardiac fibrosis associated with maladaptive cardiac remodeling.

Document Type


Link to Full Text