Wendy M. Mars, PhD

Asst. Dean for the Learning Environment, Associate Professor of Pathology, Director, Pathology Graduate Program

Dr. Mars is Director of the Cellular and Molecular Pathology Graduate Training Program and a member of the Division of Experimental Pathology.

Education & Training
BS - Arizona State University, 1976
PhD - University of Texas, 1986
Research Interests

Historically, the main focus of my research has been to understand the roles of the urokinase- and tissue-type plasminogen activators (u-PA and t-PA) in tissue regeneration, particularly with regard to their interactions with their stoichiometric target, Hepatocyte Growth Factor (HGF). Although u-PA and t-PA are best known for their enzymatic roles in fibrinolysis and cancer metastases, in the early 90's we, and others, demonstrated that u-PA and t-PA are also capable of activating latent HGF to its active form, suggesting non-canonical roles for these two proteins. Stoichiometric activation of HGF by u-PA is of particular importance during hepatic generation/regeneration, where HGF serves as an essential molecule for liver growth. HGF and u-PA, as well as the u-PA inhibitor (PAI-1), as well as their receptors MET (for HGF), u-PAR (for u-PA) and LRP1 (for u-PA and/or t-PA), are either made or utilized by multiple hepatic cell types including hepatocytes, Kupffer cells (hepatic macrophages), stellate cells and sinusoidal endothelia. This poses a problem in fully understanding exactly how u-PA, HGF, and PAI-1 contribute to hepatic regeneration since it is difficult to discern which cell types participate in the growth/regenerative process at what times. In order to explore this area of research more fully, we initially developed a fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) technique for detection of cellular mRNAs that can be used in conjunction with protein immunofluorescence (IF). By simultaneously utilizing FISH and IF, we are able to definitively demonstrate which cell types produce particular mRNAs and proteins at any particular time (PMC3999098).

Interesting, as an offshoot of this study, we inadvertently discovered that the u-PA/HGF axis interacts with interleukin-6 (IL-6), a crucial cytokine controlling hepatic survival that also regulates the hepatic acute phase response. Hence, we additionally began investigating novel interactions these proteins (u-PA, u-PAR, HGF, PAI-1, MET, t-PA, LRP1) have with other pathways known to be important in hepatic homeostasis. Using a cell-specific targeted cre/loxp approach (LysZ for macrophages, albumin for hepatocytes, tamoxifen for all cell types) we demonstrated that constitutive activation of MET in bone marrow-derived macrophages leads to suppressed IL-6 production in response to LPS stimulation (PMC2970559) whereas, in hepatocytes HGF acts as a direct stimulus for IL-6 production (PMC3999098).

In other investigations we have also been able to show that t-PA-mediated signaling through LRP1 in stellate cells reverses their activation (PMC4586397) whereas in kidney, t-PA actually pushes a fibrotic response through the same receptor. The implication of these latter findings is that t-PA, an FDA approved drug, may ultimately be of value in hepatic fibrosis/cirrhosis; however, due to the potential for inducing kidney fibrosis, a way of specifically targeting treatment to the liver will be essential. Finally, we recently discovered that LRP1 can act as a transcriptional regulator of lipid metabolism in hepatocytes. Those studies have implications for steatosis, type 2 diabetes, and cirrhosis and are currently ongoing.

Representative Publications

View Dr. Mars' publications on PubMed

  • Xue Y, Mars WM, Bowen W, Singhi AD, Stoops J, Michalopoulous GK, Hepatitis C virus (HCV) mimics effects of Glypican 3 (GPC3) on CD81 and promotes development of hepatocellular carcinomas via activation of Hippo pathway in hepatocytes. Am J Pathol. 2018 Jun;188(6):1469-1477. PubMed PMID: 29577937. PMC5975625.
  • Guzman-Lepe J, Cervantes-Alvarez E, Collin de l'Hortet A, Wang Y, Mars WM, Oda Y, Bekki Y, Shimokawa M, Wang H, Yoshizumi T, Maehara Y, Bell A, Fox IJ, Takeishi K., Soto-Gutierrez A. Liver-Enriched Transcription Factors Expression Relates to Chronic Hepatic Failure in Humans. Hepatol Commun. 2018 Mar 23;2(5):582-594. PubMed PMID: 29761173. PMC5944584.
  • Koral K, Haynes M, Bowen WC, Orr, A, Mars W, Michalopoulos, GK. Lymphocyte-Specific Protein-1 controls Sorafenib sensitivity and hepatocellular proliferation through extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 activation. Am J Pathol. 2018 Sep;188(9):2074-2086. PubMed PMID: 30126548.
  • Tsagianni A*, Mars, WM*, Bhushan B, Bowen WC, Orr A, Stoops J, Paranjpe S, Tseng GC, Liu S, Michalopoulos GK. Combined systemic disruption of MET and EGFR signaling causes liver failure in normal mice. Am J Pathol. 2018 Jul 20;188(10):2223-2235. PubMed PMID: 30031724. PMC6168971
  • Bhushan B, Stoops JW, Mars WM, Orr A, Bowen WC, Paranjpe S, Michalopoulos GK. TCPOBOP-induced hepatomegaly & hepatocyte proliferation is attenuated by combined disruption of MET & EGFR signaling. Hepatology. 2019 April;69(4):1702-1718. PubMed PMID: 29888801. PMC6289897.
  • Coudriet GM, Stoops J, Orr A, Bhushan B, Koral K, Lee S, Previte DM, Dong H, Michalopoulos GK, Mars WM*, Piganelli JD*. A noncanonical role for plasminogen activator inhibitor type 1 in obesity-induced diabetes. Am J Pathol. 2019 Jul;189(7):1413-1422. PubMed PMID: 31054988
  • Bhushan, B, Banerjee, S, Paranjpe, S, Koral, K, Mars, WM, Stoops, J.W., Orr, A., Bowen, WC, & Michalopoulos, G.K. Pharmacologic inhibition of epidermal growth factor receptor suppresses non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in murine fast-food diet model. Hepatology. 2019 May 7; doi: 10.1002/hep.30696. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed PMID: 31063640.