Interleukin-15 receptor α on hepatic stellate cells regulates hepatic fibrogenesis in mice


Jingjing Jiao†, Kohtaro Ooka†, Holger Fey, Maria Isabel Fiel, Adeeb H. Rahmman, Kensuke Kojima, Yujin Hoshida, Xintong Chen, Tatiana de Paula, Diana Vetter, David Sastre, Ka Hin Lee, Youngmin A. Lee, Meena Bansal, Scott L. Friedman, Miriam Merad, Costica Aloman


Background & Aims
Interleukin-15 (IL-15) and its high affinity receptor interleukin-15 receptor alpha (IL-15Rα) are widely expressed in immune cells and hepatic resident cells. IL-15 signaling has important functions in homeostasis of natural killer (NK), natural killer T (NKT) and cytotoxic T (CD8+ T) cells, and in liver regeneration. We hypothesized that IL-15 has a protective role in liver fibrosis progression by maintaining NK cell homeostasis.

Fibrosis was induced using two mechanistically distinct models. Congenic bone marrow transplantation was used to evaluate the contribution of IL-15 signaling from various compartments to NK, CD8+ T and NKT cell homeostasis and fibrogenesis. The gene expression profile of hepatic stellate cell (HSC) from IL-15Rα knockout (IL-15RαKO) mice and wild-type mice were captured using microarray analysis and validated in isolated HSC. Quantitative real-time PCR was used to assess repressors of collagen transcription.

IL-15RαKO mice exhibited more fibrosis in both models. IL-15 signaling from specific types of hepatic cells had divergent roles in maintaining liver NK, CD8+ T and NKT cells, with a direct and protective role on radio-resistant non-parenchymal cells beyond the control of NK homeostasis. HSCs isolated from IL-15RαKO mice demonstrated upregulation of collagen production. Finally, IL-15RαKO HSC with or without transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) stimulation exhibited increased expression of fibrosis markers and decreased collagen transcription repressors expression.

IL-15Rα signaling has a direct anti-fibrotic effect independent of preserving NK homeostasis. These findings establish a rationale to further explore the anti-fibrotic potential of enhancing IL-15 signaling in HSCs.

Lay summary
We investigated how a cellular protein, Interleukin-15 (IL-15), decreases the amount of scar tissue that is formed upon liver injury. We found that IL-15 and its receptor decrease the amount of scar tissue that is created by specialized liver cells (called stellate cells) and increase the number of a specific subgroup of immune cells (natural killer cells) that are known to eliminate stellate cells.