Duchenne muscular dystrophy fibroblast nodules: A cell-based assay for screening anti-fibrotic agents

Simona Zanotti, Sara Gibertini, Paolo Savadori, Renato Mantegazza, Marina Mora

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Severe muscle fibrosis is the endpoint of many chronic myopathies. Identification of factors that regulate fibrosis is important for understanding its pathogenesis and for developing anti-fibrotic treatments that prevent muscle destruction. We have developed an in vitro model for screening potential anti-fibrotic agents. The model consists of three-dimensional clusters (nodules) of fibroblasts derived from Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) muscle. The primary fibroblasts spontaneously and quickly form nodules resembling fibrotic foci (cells plus extracellular matrix) when grown on a solid substrate. We tested the anti-fibrotic action of suramin, decorin, and spironolactone (all with established anti-fibrotic activity) on the model. All three agents significantly reduced nodule number, and spironolactone and suramin significantly reduced nodule diameter. Nodule secretion of soluble collagen was also significantly reduced by decorin and spironolactone treatment, whereas suramin had no significant effect. Collagen I and fibronectin protein expression was significantly reduced in the culture medium of control and DMD fibroblasts by spironolactone treatment, but not by decorin and suramin treatment. Finally, in DMD fibroblast monolayers, collagen deposition was significantly reduced by all three agents. Spironolactone significantly reduced collagen I and fibronectin transcript levels, whereas decorin reduced only fibronectin. Our in vitro model of fibrogenesis has thus revealed differing anti-fibrotic effects in the three anti-fibrotic agents tested. It therefore appears as a useful and sensitive system for the testing of anti-fibrotic drugs and could be adapted for the high-throughput screening of new anti-fibrotic molecules.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)659-670
Number of pages12
JournalCell & Tissue Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013


  • Cell culture (Human)
  • Decorin
  • Fibroblast
  • Muscle fibrosis
  • Spironolactone
  • Suramin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Cell Biology
  • Histology

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