Elafin Reverses Intestinal Fibrosis by Inhibiting Cathepsin S-Mediated Protease-Activated Receptor 2

Ying Xie, Lindsey Fontenot, Andrea Chupina Estrada, Becca Nelson, Jiani Wang, David Q. Shih, Wendy Ho, S. Anjani Mattai, Florian Rieder, Dane D. Jensen, Nigel W. Bunnett, Hon Wai Koon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background & Aims: More than half of Crohn's disease patients develop intestinal fibrosis-induced intestinal strictures. Elafin is a human protease inhibitor that is down-regulated in the stricturing intestine of Crohn's disease patients. We investigated the efficacy of elafin in reversing intestinal fibrosis and elucidated its mechanism of action. Methods: We developed a new method to mimic a stricturing Crohn's disease environment and induce fibrogenesis using stricturing Crohn's disease patient-derived serum exosomes to condition fresh human intestinal tissues and primary stricturing Crohn's disease patient-derived intestinal fibroblasts. Three mouse models of intestinal fibrosis, including SAMP1/YitFc mice, Salmonella-infected mice, and trinitrobenzene sulfonic acid–treated mice, were also studied. Elafin-Eudragit FS30D formulation and elafin-overexpressing construct and lentivirus were used. Results: Elafin reversed collagen synthesis in human intestinal tissues and fibroblasts pretreated with Crohn's disease patient-derived serum exosomes. Proteome arrays identified cathepsin S as a novel fibroblast-derived pro-fibrogenic protease. Elafin directly suppressed cathepsin S activity to inhibit protease-activated receptor 2 activity and Zinc finger E-box-binding homeobox 1 expression, leading to reduced collagen expression in intestinal fibroblasts. Elafin overexpression reversed ileal fibrosis in SAMP1/YitFc mice, cecal fibrosis in Salmonella-infected mice, and colonic fibrosis in trinitrobenzene sulfonic acid–treated mice. Cathepsin S, protease-activated receptor 2 agonist, and zinc finger E-box-binding homeobox 1 overexpression abolished the anti-fibrogenic effect of elafin in fibroblasts and all 3 mouse models of intestinal fibrosis. Oral elafin-Eudragit FS30D treatment abolished colonic fibrosis in trinitrobenzene sulfonic acid–treated mice. Conclusions: Elafin suppresses collagen synthesis in intestinal fibroblasts via cathepsin S-dependent protease-activated receptor 2 inhibition and decreases zinc finger E-box-binding homeobox 1 expression. The reduced collagen synthesis leads to the reversal of intestinal fibrosis. Thus, modified elafin may be a therapeutic approach for intestinal fibrosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)841-876
Number of pages36
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • Fibrosis
  • Protease
  • Receptor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology


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