Inhibition of PI3K prevents the proliferation and differentiation of human lung fibroblasts into myofibroblasts: the role of class I P110 isoforms

PLoS One. 2011;6(10):e24663. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024663. Epub 2011 Oct 3.


Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a progressive fibroproliferative disease characterized by an accumulation of fibroblasts and myofibroblasts in the alveolar wall. Even though the pathogenesis of this fatal disorder remains unclear, transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β)-induced differentiation and proliferation of myofibroblasts is recognized as a primary event. The molecular pathways involved in TGF-β signalling are generally Smad-dependent yet Smad-independent pathways, including phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase/protein kinase B (PI3K/Akt), have been recently proposed. In this research we established ex-vivo cultures of human lung fibroblasts and we investigated the role of the PI3K/Akt pathway in two critical stages of the fibrotic process induced by TGF-β: fibroblast proliferation and differentiation into myofibroblasts. Here we show that the pan-inhibitor of PI3Ks LY294002 is able to abrogate the TGF-β-induced increase in cell proliferation, in α- smooth muscle actin expression and in collagen production besides inhibiting Akt phosphorylation, thus demonstrating the centrality of the PI3K/Akt pathway in lung fibroblast proliferation and differentiation. Moreover, for the first time we show that PI3K p110δ and p110γ are functionally expressed in human lung fibroblasts, in addition to the ubiquitously expressed p110α and β. Finally, results obtained with both selective inhibitors and gene knocking-down experiments demonstrate a major role of p110γ and p110α in both TGF-β-induced fibroblast proliferation and differentiation. This finding suggests that specific PI3K isoforms can be pharmacological targets in IPF.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Differentiation* / drug effects
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Chromones / pharmacology
  • Class I Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Class I Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / genetics
  • Class I Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Isoenzymes / genetics
  • Isoenzymes / metabolism
  • Lung / cytology*
  • Morpholines / pharmacology
  • Myofibroblasts / cytology*
  • Myofibroblasts / drug effects
  • Myofibroblasts / enzymology*
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism
  • RNA, Small Interfering / metabolism
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / pharmacology


  • Chromones
  • Isoenzymes
  • Morpholines
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • 2-(4-morpholinyl)-8-phenyl-4H-1-benzopyran-4-one
  • Class I Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt