Pulmonary fibrosis represents the end stage of a number of heterogeneous conditions and is, to a greater or lesser degree, the hallmark of the interstitial lung diseases. It is characterized by the excessive deposition of extracellular matrix proteins within the pulmonary interstitium leading to the obliteration of functional alveolar units and in many cases, respiratory failure. While a small number of interstitial lung diseases have known aetiologies, most are idiopathic in nature, and of these, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is the most common and carries with it an appalling prognosis - median survival from the time of diagnosis is less than 3 years. This reflects the lack of any effective therapy to modify the course of the disease, which in turn is indicative of our incomplete understanding of the pathogenesis of this condition. Current prevailing hypotheses focus on dysregulated epithelial-mesenchymal interactions promoting a cycle of continued epithelial cell injury and fibroblast activation leading to progressive fibrosis. However, it is likely that multiple abnormalities in a myriad of biological pathways affecting inflammation and wound repair - including matrix regulation, epithelial reconstitution, the coagulation cascade, neovascularization and antioxidant pathways - modulate this defective crosstalk and promote fibrogenesis. This review aims to offer a pathogenetic rationale behind current therapies, briefly outlining previous and ongoing clinical trials, but will focus on recent and exciting advancements in our understanding of the pathogenesis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which may ultimately lead to the development of novel and effective therapeutic interventions for this devastating condition.
© 2011 The Authors. British Journal of Pharmacology © 2011 The British Pharmacological Society.