BRD4 mediates NF-κB-dependent epithelial-mesenchymal transition and pulmonary fibrosis via transcriptional elongation

Bing Tian, Yingxin Zhao, Hong Sun, Yueqing Zhang, Jun Yang, Allan R. Brasier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


Chronic epithelial injury triggers a TGF-β-mediated cellular transition from normal epithelium into a mesenchymal-like state that produces subepithelial fibrosis and airway remodeling. Here we examined how TGF-β induces the mesenchymal cell state and determined its mechanism. We observed that TGF-β stimulation activates an inflammatory gene program controlled by the NF-κB/RelA signaling pathway. In the mesenchymal state, NF-κB-dependent immediate-early genes accumulate euchromatin marks and processive RNA polymerase. This program of immediate-early genes is activated by enhanced expression, nuclear translocation, and activating phosphorylation of the NF-κB/RelA transcription factor on Ser276, mediated by a paracrine signal. Phospho-Ser276 RelA binds to the BRD4/CDK9 transcriptional elongation complex, activating the paused RNA Pol II by phosphorylation on Ser2 in its carboxy-terminal domain. RelA-initiated transcriptional elongation is required for expression of the core epithelial-mesenchymal transition transcriptional regulators SNAI1, TWIST1, and ZEB1 and mesenchymal genes. Finally, we observed that pharmacological inhibition of BRD4 can attenuate experimental lung fibrosis induced by repetitive TGF-β challenge in a mouse model. These data provide a detailed mechanism for how activated NF-κB and BRD4 control epithelial-mesenchymal transition initiation and transcriptional elongation in model airway epithelial cells in vitro and in a murine pulmonary fibrosis model in vivo. Our data validate BRD4 as an in vivo target for the treatment of pulmonary fibrosis associated with inflammation-coupled remodeling in chronic lung diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)L1183-L1201
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2016


  • Airway epithelial cells
  • BRD4
  • Fibrosis
  • Mesenchymal transition
  • Nuclear factor-κB

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Cell Biology


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