During biliary disease, cholangiocytes become activated by various pathological stimuli, including transforming growth factor β (TGF-β). The result is an epigenetically regulated transcriptional program leading to a pro-fibrogenic microenvironment, activation of hepatic stellate cells (HSCs), and progression of biliary fibrosis. This study evaluated how TGF-β signaling intersects with epigenetic machinery in cholangiocytes to support fibrogenic gene transcription. We performed RNA sequencing in cholangiocytes with or without TGF-β. Ingenuity pathway analysis identified “HSC Activation” as the highly up-regulated pathway, including overexpression of fibronectin 1 (FN), connective tissue growth factor, and other genes. Bioinformatics identified enhancer of zeste homologue 2 (EZH2) as an epigenetic regulator of the cholangiocyte TGF-β response. EZH2 overexpression suppressed TGF-β-induced FN protein in vitro, suggesting FN as a direct target of EZH2-based repression. Chromatin immunoprecipitation assays identified an FN promoter element in which EZH2-mediated tri-methylation of lysine 27 on histone 3 is diminished by TGF-β. TGF-β also caused a 50% reduction in EZH2 protein levels. Proteasome inhibition rescued EZH2 protein and led to reduced FN production. Immunoprecipitation followed by mass spectrometry identified ubiquitin protein ligase E3 component N-recognin 4 in complex with EZH2, which was validated by western blotting in vitro. Ubiquitin mutation studies suggested K63-based ubiquitin linkage and chain elongation on EZH2 in response to TGF-β. A deletion mutant of EZH2, lacking its N-terminal domain, abrogates both TGF-β-stimulated EZH2 degradation and FN release. In vivo, cholangiocyte-selective knockout of EZH2 exacerbates bile duct ligation–induced fibrosis whereas MDR2-/- mice are protected from fibrosis by the proteasome inhibitor bortezomib. Conclusion: TGF-β regulates proteasomal degradation of EZH2 through N-terminal, K63-linked ubiquitination in cholangiocytes and activates transcription of a fibrogenic gene program that supports biliary fibrosis.
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