Growth differentiation factor 11 (GDF11) is a member of the transforming growth factor (TGF)-β superfamily. The rejuvenative effect of GDF11 has been called into question recently, and its role in liver regeneration is unclear. Here, we investigated the pathophysiologic role of GDF11, as well as its plausible signaling mechanisms in a mouse model of partial hepatectomy (PH). We demonstrated that both serum and hepatic GDF11 protein expression increased following PH. Treatment with adeno-associated viruses-GDF11 and recombinant GDF11 protein severely impaired liver regeneration, whereas inhibition of GDF11 activity with neutralizing antibodies significantly improved liver regeneration after PH. In vitro, GDF11 treatment significantly delayed cell proliferation and induced cell-cycle arrest in α mouse liver 12 (AML12) cells. Moreover, GDF11 activated TGF-β-SMAD2/3 signaling pathway. Inhibition of GDF11-induced SMAD2/3 activity significantly blocked GDF11-mediated reduction in cell proliferation both in vivo and in vitro. In the clinical setting, GDF11 levels were significantly elevated in patients after hepatectomy. Collectively, these results indicate that rather than a ‘rejuvenating’ agent, GDF11 impairs liver regeneration after PH. Suppression of cell-cycle progression via TGF-β-SMAD2/3 signaling pathway may be a key mechanism by which GDF11 inhibits liver regeneration.

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