Purpose, patients, and methods: Since transforming growth factor beta (TGF beta) has been implicated as an important mediator of pulmonary fibrosis, we measured TGF beta protein and gene expression in alveolar epithelial lining fluid (ELF) of fibrotic scleroderma lungs sampled by bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL). TGF beta protein was qualitatively examined by Western blot analysis, and quantitatively by radioreceptor assays. Gene expression was evaluated in BAL mononuclear cells by Northern blot analysis with quantification of relative gene expression by densitometric analysis of the autoradiograms.
Results: Normal and scleroderma subjects had a 24-kd protein that comigrated with defined human TGF beta 1 and immunoreacted with anti-TGF beta antibody. The normal population had a significantly higher average TGF beta concentration (705 pM) compared with the scleroderma subjects (177 pM). The TGF beta 1 gene was expressed in amounts that did not significantly differ between the scleroderma and normal groups. On an individual subject basis, the TGF beta concentration variability did not correlate with variations in BAL cellularity or TGF beta 1 gene expression within the recovered mononuclear cells.
Conclusions: It is concluded that both normal and fibrotic lungs have TGF beta 1 present at the alveolar epithelial surface. However, in the fibrotic scleroderma lungs, TGF beta protein content and gene expression were not increased at the alveolar epithelial surface. The simultaneous analysis of TGF beta protein content, gene expression, and cellular constituents within individual ELF specimens showed that the cellular components of the ELF do not appear to be major determinants of TGF beta protein concentration at the alveolar epithelial surface.