Understanding the link between transglutaminase and the induction of fibrosis in cystic fibrosis (CF)

  • Samuel Nyabam

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The emerging role of the multifunctional enzyme, Transglutaminase 2 (TG2) in Cystic Fibrosis (CF) has been linked to its increased expression and intracellular transamidating activity. However, a full understanding of the molecular mechanisms involved still remains unclear despite numerous studies that have attempted to delineate this process. These mechanisms include the NFκB and TGFβ1 pathway amongst others. This study reveals for the first time that the development of fibrosis in CF is due to a TG2-driven epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) via a mechanism involving the activation of the pro-fibrotic cytokine TGFβ1. Using a human ΔF508/W1282X CFTR CF mutant bronchial cell (IB3-1), its CFTR corrected “add-back” cell (C38) as well as a primary human bronchial epithelial cell (HBEC), elevated TG2 levels in the CFTR mutant IB3 cell were shown to activate latent TGFβ1 leading to increased levels found in the culture medium. This activation process was blocked by the presence of cell-permeable and impermeable TG2 inhibitors while inhibition of TGFβ1 receptors blocked TG2 expression. This demonstrates the direct link between TG2 and TGFβ1 in CF. The presence of active cell surface TG2 correlated with an increase in the expression of EMT markers, associated with the CF mutant cells, which could be blocked by the presence of TG2 inhibitors. This was mimicked using the “addback” C38 cell and the primary human bronchial epithelial cell, HBEC, where an increase in TG2 expression and activity in the presence of TGFβ1 concurred with a change in cell morphology and an elevation in EMT marker expression. Conversely, a knockdown of TG2 in the CF mutant IB3 cells illustrated that an inhibition of TG2 blocks the increase in EMT marker expression as well as causing an increase in TEER measurement. This together with an increase in the migration profile of the CF mutant IB3 cell against the “add-back” C38 cell suggests that TG2 drives a mesenchymal phenotype in CF. The involvement of TG2 activated TGFβ1 in CF was further demonstrated with an elevation/inhibition of p- SMAD 2 and 3 activation in the presence of TGFβ1/TG2 cell-permeable/impermeable inhibitors respectively. The use of a comparative airway cell model where bronchial epithelial cells were cultured at the air liquid interface (ALI) confirmed the observations in submerged culture depicting the robustness of the model and reiterated the importance of TG2 in CF. Using a CFTR corrector combined with TG2 inhibitors, this study showed that the correction and stabilisation of the ΔF508 CFTR mutation in the mutant cell forged an increase in matured CFTR copies trafficking to the apical surface by circumventing proteosomal degradation. Thus the results presented here suggests that TG2 expression is elevated in the CFTR mutant bronchial cell via a TGFβ1 driven positive feedback cycle whereby activation of latent TGFβ1 by TG2 leads in turn to an elevation in its own expression by TGFβ1. This vicious cycle then drives EMT in CF ultimately leading to lung remodelling and fibrosis. Importantly, TG2 inhibition blocks TGFβ1 activation leading to an inhibition of EMT and further blocks the emerging fibrosis, thus stabilizing and supporting the maturation, trafficking and conductance of CFTR channels at the apical surface.
Date of Award13 Feb 2015
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorLindsay J Marshall (Supervisor), Martin Griffin (Supervisor) & Russell Collighan (Supervisor)


  • transglutaminase 2
  • cystic fibrosis
  • TGFβ1
  • CFTR
  • TG2 inhibitors

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