Background: Transforming growth factor beta (TGFbeta), a multifunctional cytokine, plays a crucial role in the accumulation of extracellular matrix components in lung fibrosis, where lung fibroblasts are considered to play a major role. Even though the effects of TGFbeta on the gene expression of several proteins have been investigated in several lung fibroblast cell lines, the global pattern of response to this cytokine in adult lung fibroblasts is still unknown.
Methods: We used Affymetrix oligonucleotide microarrays U95v2, containing approximately 12,000 human genes, to study the transcriptional profile in response to a four hour treatment with TGFbeta in control lung fibroblasts and in fibroblasts from patients with idiopathic and scleroderma-associated pulmonary fibrosis. A combination of the Affymetrix change algorithm (Microarray Suite 5) and of analysis of variance models was used to identify TGFbeta-regulated genes. Additional criteria were an average up- or down- regulation of at least two fold.
Results: Exposure of fibroblasts to TGFbeta had a profound impact on gene expression, resulting in regulation of 129 transcripts. We focused on genes not previously found to be regulated by TGFbeta in lung fibroblasts or other cell types, including nuclear co-repressor 2, SMAD specific E3 ubiquitin protein ligase 2 (SMURF2), bone morphogenetic protein 4, and angiotensin II receptor type 1 (AGTR1), and confirmed the microarray results by real time-PCR. Western Blotting confirmed induction at the protein level of AGTR1, the most highly induced gene in both control and fibrotic lung fibroblasts among genes encoding for signal transduction molecules. Upregulation of AGTR1 occurred through the MKK1/MKK2 signalling pathway. Immunohistochemical staining showed AGTR1 expression by lung fibroblasts in fibroblastic foci within biopsies of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
Conclusions: This study identifies several novel TGFbeta targets in lung fibroblasts, and confirms with independent methods the induction of angiotensin II receptor type 1, underlining a potential role for angiotensin II receptor 1 antagonism in the treatment of lung fibrosis.