Fibrosis of the subsynovial connective tissue (SSCT) is a pathognomonic change in carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Identification of molecular targets and anti-fibrotic therapies could provide new treatment strategies for CTS. The contribution of SSCT cells to fibrosis and the signaling pathways that initiate and aggravate fibrosis in CTS remain unknown. Here we report that platelet-derived growth factor receptor alpha (PDGFRα) positive (+) cells accumulate in CTS SSCT and that the presence of fibrotic growth factor, PDGF-AA, results in increased proliferation of PDGFRα+ cells via PI3K/Akt signaling pathway. Although PI3K inhibition decreased proliferation, there was no change in fibrosis-related gene expression. Indeed, protein levels of fibrosis signaling mediator TGF-β remained the same and the second messenger, Smad2/3, accumulated in the nucleus. In contrast AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) activation, which can be induced with metformin and AICAR inhibited proliferation, TGF-β expression, and altered cell morphology in SSCT cells. Further we show that AMPK activation by metformin reduced collagen III levels and the ratio of Collagen I to Collagen III. Both AICAR and metformin reduced F-actin and significantly reduced the fiber cross alignment. Our results suggest that PDGFRa signaling may be an important fibrosis target and that activators of AMPK, may be an important therapeutic approach for treating CTS.
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