Hypoxia resulting in hypoxia-inducible factor-1 alpha (HIF-1α) induction is known to drive scar formation during cutaneous wound healing, and may be responsible for excessive fibrosis inherent to hypertrophic scars and keloids. Because epigenetic pathways play an important role in regulation of fibrosing processes, we evaluated patient scars for DNA hydroxymethylation (5-hydroxymethylcytosine; 5-hmC) status and documented a significant decrease in scar fibroblasts. To test this finding in vitro, human fibroblasts were cultured with cobalt chloride (CoCl2), a known stimulant of HIF-1α. HIF-1α induced so resulted in loss of 5-hmC similar to that seen in naturally occurring scars and was associated with significant downregulation of one of the 5-hmC converting enzymes—ten–eleven translocation 3 (TET3)—as well as increased expression of phosphorylated focal adhesion kinase (p-FAK), which is important in wound contracture. These changes were partially reversed by exposure to ascorbic acid, a recognized epigenetic regulator potentially capable of minimizing excessive scar formation and promoting a more regenerative healing response. Our results provide a novel and translationally relevant mechanism whereby epigenetic regulation of scar formation may be manipulated at the level of fibroblast DNA hydroxymethylation.
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We are grateful for funding from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute that supported part of this initiative. Michael Wells provided valuable editorial assistance.
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Liu, Y., Xu, S., Zu, T. et al. Reversal of TET-mediated 5-hmC loss in hypoxic fibroblasts by ascorbic acid. Lab Invest 99, 1193–1202 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41374-019-0235-8