Richard Nho, PhD

Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine

Richard Nho

Contact Info

Mailing Address:
420 Delaware Street SE
MMC 276 (Pulmonary)
MMC 434 (Allergy)
Minneapolis, MN 55455

Administrative Assistant Name

Administrative Phone

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PhD, University of Manchester, Manchester, England

Yonsei University, Seoul, S. Korea


Research Summary/Interests

Our major research interest is to elucidate the mechanisms by which the extracellular matrix (ECM) regulates human lung fibroblast proliferation and viability, and to identify crucial pathways via integrins. A pathologic integrin growth-signaling pathway is critical in understanding aberrant IPF (idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis) fibroblast proliferation on extracellular matrices. We have previously discovered that :1) IPF fibroblast proliferation on polymerized collagen is associated with inappropriately low PTEN/PI3K/Akt activity and enhanced eIF4E activity; 2) integrin/ECM interaction regulates the protein expression of two critical tumor suppressor proteins, PTEN and 4EBP-1. PTEN is a major inhibitor of the PI3K/Akt growth signal pathway and 4EBP-1 is an inhibitor of cap-dependent translation, which is regulated by the PI3K/Akt/mTOR pathway. Given this evidence, we hypothesize that the regulation of PTEN and 4EBP-1 function in response to IPF fibroblast interaction with the ECM will be abnormal. We are currently investigating integrin-mediated abnormal growth/survival signaling pathways in IPF fibroblasts. In addition, in an effort to begin to define the IPF fibroblast phenotype, we performed a series of experiments to comprehensively analyze the flow of genetic information in IPF fibroblasts within a tissue-like environment. Using this approach, we have identified keratin 18 as a gene that is highly transcribed in IPF fibroblasts but not in control fibroblasts. Western analysis has confirmed that keratin 18 protein is expressed in IPF fibroblasts but not in controls. This is particularly intriguing for the following reasons: 1) keratin 18 is an epithelial protein that forms intermediate filaments and maintains cytoskeletal integrity; 2) alterations in keratin 18 expression occur during epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT); 3) EMT is a central process associated with cancer progression; persistence of keratin 18 expression is a hallmark of cancer cells derived from various epithelia and correlates with invasiveness; 4) in hepatocytes, deregulation of keratin 18 expression results in a misfolded protein response and the formation of keratin aggregates (Mallory bodies) promoting cell death; and 5) altered keratin 18 expression has been implicated with hepatic fibrosis in humans. While it is unclear what the consequences of keratin 18 expression are in IPF fibroblasts, the implications of finding an epithelial protein expressed in IPF fibroblasts are clear and point towards EMT. EMT has recently been identified as a potential important source of mesenchymal cells in IPF. We hypothesize that keratin 18 expression is a marker of epithelial/fibroblast differentiation in IPF and that altered keratin 18 expression disrupts critical cellular functions in alveolar epithelial cells and IPF fibroblasts that may lead to progressive fibrosis in IPF. Studies are underway to elucidate the functional importance of keratin 18 in regulating IPF fibroblast migration, proliferation and viability. Our long-term goal is to characterize the molecular processes underlying the pathological ability of IPF fibroblasts to elude the anti-proliferative effects of polymerized collagen and to translate this understanding into novel therapeutic strategies to limit fibrosis.