Non-canonical Wnt signalling initiates scarring in biliary disease


Cholangiopathies, or biliary diseases, account for a significant proportion of adult and paediatric liver disease. In these pathologies, iterative cycles of damage and repair result in the development of a regenerative microenvironment surrounding the bile ducts, which orchestrates both epithelial proliferation and also biliary fibrosis. Ultimately, fibrosis at the cost of repair results in cholestasis and liver failure, necessitating liver transplantation. Whilst the fibrogenic mechanisms in hepatocellular disease have been widely studied, little is known about the processes that regulate biliary scarring. We sought to determine how the injured biliary epithelium communicates to adjacent stromal cells to regulate scar formation, and to identify therapeutically targetable pathways that could be inhibited to reduce biliary scarring, whilst maintaining the pro-regenerative stroma. Using human tissue, bile duct organoids and animal models of biliary disease, we show that non-canonical Wnt signalling is important in initiating biliary scarring. This process is driven by myeloid Wnt5a and acts through epithelial Vangl2, which is upstream of Jnk/cJun signalling. Activation of this pathway drives a pro-fibrotic signalling process which instructs portal fibroblasts to synthesise collagen. Finally, we determine that therapeutic Wnt ligand inhibition reduces biliary scarring, identifying non-canonical Wnt signalling as a novel target for anti-fibrotic therapy in cholestatic biliary disease.

David Wilson
Wellcome Trust Tissue Repair PhD Researcher

My research interests revolve around Biliary Disease and investigating the key cellular, molecular and transcriptional components that drives progression of fibrosis in the liver .