Hypoxia-induced HE4 in tubular epithelial cells promotes extracellular matrix accumulation and renal fibrosis via NF-κB

Lei Zhang, Limin Liu, Ming Bai, Minna Liu, Lei Wei, Zhen Yang, Qi Qian, Xiaoxuan Ning, Shiren Sun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Hypoxia-induced extracellular matrix (ECM) deposition is an important cause of renal fibrosis that is triggered by unknown mechanisms. Human epididymis secretory protein 4 (HE4) is a newly discovered key molecule that causes ECM deposition. We used the unilateral ureteral obstruction (UUO) mouse model to investigate the expression and mechanisms of HE4 in the pathogenesis of renal fibrosis. Results were confirmed in the HK2 cell line and in human donors of kidney tissue with chronic kidney disease. Hypoxia significantly increased HE4 in renal tubular epithelial cells. HE4 overexpression activated the NF-κB pathway through the NF-κB transcription-activating group P65 by phosphorylation and nuclear translocation. NF-κB upregulated tissue inhibitor metalloproteinases 1, which may inhibit ECM degradation through inhibition of matrix metallopeptidase 2 activity. Silencing HE4 inhibited hypoxia-induced ECM deposition and alleviated fibrosis in UUO mice in vivo and blocked NF-κB activation in vitro. Expression of HE4 in the tubulointerstitium was positively correlated with tubulointerstitial fibrosis in tissue samples from patients with chronic kidney disease. Our results suggest that hypoxia induces renal fibrosis by upregulating HE4 and activating the HIF-1α/HE4/NF-κB signaling pathway. Uncovering the molecular mechanisms and function of HE4 overexpression in hypoxia-induced renal fibrosis will provide important insights into understanding renal fibrosis and antifibrotic strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2554-2567
Number of pages14
JournalFASEB Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • NF-κB
  • chronic hypoxia
  • extracellular matrix
  • human epididymis secretory protein 4
  • renal fibrosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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