SOX9 regulated matrix proteins are increased in patients serum and correlate with severity of liver fibrosis

Varinder S. Athwal, James Pritchett, Katherine Martin, Jessica Llewellyn, Jennifer Scott, Emma Harvey, Abed M. Zaitoun, Aoibheann F. Mullan, Leo A.H. Zeef, Scott L. Friedman, William L. Irving, Neil A. Hanley, Indra N. Guha, Karen Piper Hanley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Extracellular matrix (ECM) deposition and resultant scar play a major role in the pathogenesis and progression of liver fibrosis. Identifying core regulators of ECM deposition may lead to urgently needed diagnostic and therapetic strategies for the disease. The transcription factor Sex determining region Y box 9 (SOX9) is actively involved in scar formation and its prevalence in patients with liver fibrosis predicts progression. In this study, transcriptomic approaches of Sox9-abrogated myofibroblasts identified >30% of genes regulated by SOX9 relate to the ECM. Further scrutiny of these data identified a panel of highly expressed ECM proteins, including Osteopontin (OPN), Osteoactivin (GPNMB), Fibronectin (FN1), Osteonectin (SPARC) and Vimentin (VIM) as SOX9 targets amenable to assay in patient serum. In vivo all SOX-regulated targets were increased in human disease and mouse models of fibrosis and decreased following Sox9-loss in mice with parenchymal and biliary fibrosis. In patient serum samples, SOX9-regulated ECM proteins were altered in response to fibrosis severity, whereas comparison with established clinical biomarkers demonstrated superiority for OPN and VIM at detecting early stages of fibrosis. These data support SOX9 in the mechanisms underlying fibrosis and highlight SOX9 and its downstream targets as new measures to stratify patients with liver fibrosis.
Original languageEnglish
Article number17905
Pages (from-to)17905
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Early online date17 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - 17 Dec 2018


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