Dr. Rannar Airik and colleagues publish a research article in the FASEB Journal, entitled, “Mitigation of portal fibrosis and cholestatic liver disease in ANKS6-deficient livers by macrophage depletion.” PLRC members, Dr. Paul Monga and Dr. Kari Nejak-Bowen, also contributed to this manuscript.
Congenital hepatic fibrosis (CHF) is a developmental liver disease that is caused by mutations in genes that encode ciliary proteins and is characterized by bile duct dysplasia and portal fibrosis. Recent work has demonstrated that mutations in ANKS6 can cause CHF due to its role in bile duct development. Here, we report a novel ANKS6 mutation, which was identified in an infant presenting with neonatal jaundice due to underlying biliary abnormalities and liver fibrosis. Molecular analysis revealed that ANKS6 liver pathology is associated with the infiltration of inflammatory macrophages to the periportal fibrotic tissue and ductal epithelium. To further investigate the role of macrophages in CHF pathophysiology, we generated a novel liver-specific Anks6 knockout mouse model. The mutant mice develop biliary abnormalities and rapidly progressing periportal fibrosis reminiscent of human CHF. The development of portal fibrosis in Anks6 KO mice coincided with the accumulation of inflammatory monocytes and macrophages in the mutant liver. Gene expression and flow cytometric analysis demonstrated the preponderance of M1- over M2-like macrophages at the onset of fibrosis. A critical role for macrophages in promoting peribiliary fibrosis was demonstrated by depleting the macrophages with clodronate liposomes which effectively reduced inflammatory gene expression and fibrosis, and ameliorated tissue histology and biliary function in Anks6 KO livers. Together, this study demonstrates that macrophages play an important role in the initiation of liver fibrosis in ANKS6-deficient livers and their therapeutic elimination may provide an avenue to mitigate CHF in patients.