Vitamin A-coupled liposomes containing siRNA against HSP47 ameliorate skin fibrosis in chronic graft-versus-host disease

Tomohiro Yamakawa, Hiroyuki Ohigashi, Daigo Hashimoto, Eiko Hayase, Shuichiro Takahashi, Miyono Miyazaki, Kenjiro Minomi, Masahiro Onozawa, Yoshiro Niitsu and Takanori Teshima

Key points

  • HSP47+ myofibroblasts are accumulated in the skin and salivary gland fibrosis of chronic GVHD in a CSF-1R+ macrophage-dependent manner.

  • Vitamin A-coupled liposomes containing HSP47 siRNA abrogate HSP47 expression in myofibroblasts and ameliorate fibrosis in chronic GVHD.


Chronic graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) after allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (SCT) is characterized by multiple-organ fibrosis, profoundly affects quality of life of transplant survivors. Heat shock protein 47 (HSP47), a collagen specific molecular chaperone, plays a critical role in collagen synthesis in myofibroblasts. We explored the role of HSP47 in fibrotic process of cutaneous chronic GVHD in mice. Immunohistochemical analysis showed massive fibrosis with elevated amount of collagen deposit and accumulation of F4/80+ macrophages as well as myofibroblasts expressing HSP47 and retinol binding protein 1 in the skin after allogeneic SCT. Repeated injection of anti-CSF1 receptor blocking antibodies significantly reduced HSP47+ myofibroblasts in the skin, indicating a macrophage-dependent accumulation of myofibroblasts. Vitamin A-coupled liposomes carrying HSP47 siRNA (VA-lip HSP47) delivered HSP47 siRNA to cells expressing vitamin A receptors and knocked down their HSP47 in vitro. Intravenously injected VA-lip HSP47 were specifically distributed to skin fibrotic lesion and did not affect collagen synthesis in healthy skin. VA-lip HSP47 knocked down HSP47 expression in myofibroblasts and significantly reduced collagen-deposition without inducing systemic immunosuppression. It also abrogated fibrosis in the salivary glands. These results highlight a cascade of fibrosis in chronic GVHD; macrophage production of TGF-β mediates fibroblast differentiation to HSP47+ myofibroblast that produce collagen. VA-lip HSP47 represent a novel strategy to modulate fibrosis in chronic GVHD by targeting HSP47+ myofibroblasts without immunosuppression.

  • Submitted April 28, 2017.
  • Accepted January 16, 2018.