Bidirectional epithelial-mesenchymal crosstalk provides self-sustaining profibrotic signals in pulmonary fibrosis

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Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is the prototypic progressive fibrotic lung disease with a median survival of 2-4 years. Injury to and/or dysfunction of the alveolar epithelium is strongly implicated in IPF disease initiation, but the factors that determine whether fibrosis progresses rather than normal tissue repair occurs remain poorly understood. We previously demonstrated that ZEB1-mediated epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in human alveolar epithelial type II (ATII) cells augments TGF-β-induced profibrogenic responses in underlying lung fibroblasts via paracrine signalling. Here we investigated bi-directional epithelial-mesenchymal crosstalk and its potential to drive fibrosis progression. RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) of lung fibroblasts exposed to conditioned media from ATII cells undergoing RAS-induced EMT identified many differentially expressed genes including those involved in cell migration and extracellular matrix (ECM) regulation. We confirmed that paracrine signalling between RAS-activated ATII cells and fibroblasts augmented fibroblast recruitment and demonstrated that this involved a ZEB1-tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) axis. In a reciprocal fashion, paracrine signalling from TGF-β-activated lung fibroblasts or IPF fibroblasts induced RAS activation in ATII cells, at least partially through the secreted protein, SPARC, which may signal via the epithelial growth factor receptor (EGFR) via EGF-like (EGFL) repeats. Together, these data identify that aberrant bi-directional epithelial-mesenchymal crosstalk in IPF drives a chronic feedback loop that maintains a wound-healing phenotype and provides self-sustaining pro-fibrotic signals.

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Volume 297
Issue number 3
Pages 101096
Available online
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