Ionizing radiation exposure is associated with a risk of cardiac fibrosis; however, the underlying molecular mechanism remains unclear. Growth/differentiation factor-15 (GDF15), a fibroblast factor, is a divergent member of the transforming growth factor β superfamily. Next-generation sequencing analyses has revealed that Gdf15 is increased in cardiac fibroblasts during radiation-induced fibrosis. However, the role of Gdf15 in cardiac fibrosis remains unclear. In this study, we demonstrated that the upregulated expression of GDF15 in newborn rat cardiac fibroblasts and adult rats after irradiation could induce fibrosis, which was confirmed by the increased cell proliferation rate and the increased expression of fibrosis markers (Col1α and αSMA) in newborn rat cardiac fibroblasts after transfection with Gdf15 in vitro. Conversely, the downregulation of GDF15 inhibited cardiac fibrosis, as confirmed by G2/M-cell cycle arrest, suppression of cell proliferation, and low levels of Col1α and αSMA expression. We also found that suppressing the expression of Gdf15 in cardiac fibroblasts could lead to a decrease in CDK1 and inhibit phosphorylation of ERK1/2. Thus, GDF15 might promote cardiac fibroblast fibrosis through the MAPK/ERK1/2 pathway and thus contribute to the pathogenesis of radiation-induced heart disease.

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