The role of inflammation in the pathogenesis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

Antioxid Redox Signal. 2008 Feb;10(2):287-301. doi: 10.1089/ars.2007.1897.


The role of inflammation in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is controversial. If inflammation were critical to the disease process, lung pathology would demonstrate an influx of inflammatory cells, and that the disease would respond to immunosuppression. Neither is true. The classic pathology does not display substantial inflammation, and no modulation of the immune system is effective as treatment. Recent data suggest that the pathophysiology of the disease is more a product of fibroblast dysfunction than of dysregulated inflammation. The role of inflammation in disease pathogenesis comes from pathology from atypical patients, biologic samples procured during exacerbations of the disease, and careful examination of biologic specimens from patients with stable disease. We suggest that inflammation is indeed a critical factor in IPF and propose five potential nontraditional mechanisms for the role of inflammation in the pathogenesis of IPF: the direct inflammatory hypothesis, the matrix hypothesis, the growth factor-receptor hypothesis, the plasticity hypothesis, and the vascular hypothesis. To address these, we review the literature exploring the differences in pathology, prognosis, and clinical course, as well as the role of cytokines, growth factors, and other mediators of inflammation, and last, the role of matrix and vascular supply in patients with IPF.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asbestos / toxicity
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / physiopathology*
  • Lung Injury
  • Models, Biological
  • Pulmonary Circulation / physiology
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / chemically induced
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / etiology
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / physiopathology*
  • Smoking / adverse effects


  • Asbestos