Chronic liver diseases, characterized by an excessive accumulation of extracellular matrix (ECM) resulting in scar tissue formation, are a growing health problem causing increasing morbidity and mortality worldwide. Currently, therapeutic options for tissue fibrosis are severely limited, and organ transplantation is the only treatment for the end-stage liver diseases. During liver damage, injured hepatocytes release proinflammatory factors resulting in the recruitment and activation of immune cells that activate quiescent hepatic stellate cells (HSCs). Upon activation, HSCs transdifferentiate into highly proliferative, migratory, contractile and ECM-producing myofibroblasts. The disrupted balance between ECM deposition and degradation leads to the formation of scar tissue referred to as fibrosis. This balance can be restored either by reducing ECM deposition (by inhibition of HSCs activation and proliferation) or enhancing ECM degradation (by increased expression of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs)). MMPs play an important role in ECM remodeling and represent an interesting target for therapeutic drug discovery. In this review, we present the current knowledge about ECM remodeling and role of the different MMPs in liver diseases. MMP expression patterns in different stages of liver diseases have also been reviewed to determine their role as biomarkers. Finally, we highlight MMPs as promising therapeutic targets for the resolution of liver diseases.
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