Background: Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a devastating interstitial pneumonia causing a loss of respiratory surface area due to a proliferative fibrotic response involving hyperplastic, hypertrophic, and metaplastic epithelium, cystic honeycomb change, septal expansion, and variable inflammation. Wnt (wingless) signaling glycoproteins are known to be involved in lung development and tissue repair, and are up-regulated in patients with IPF. Based on previous qRT-PCR data showing increased Wnt7B in lungs of IPF patients, a systematic, quantitative examination of its tissue site distribution was undertaken.
Methods: Tissue samples from the Lung Tissue Research Consortium (LTRC) of 39 patients diagnosed with mild to severe IPF/usual interstitial pneumonia (UIP) and 19 normal patients were examined for the immunolocalization of Wnt7B.
Results: In normal lung, moderate Wnt7B reactivity was confined to airway epithelium, smooth muscle of airways and vasculature, and macrophages. IPF lung showed strong Wnt7B reactivity in fibroblastic foci, dysplastic airway and alveolar epithelium, and in highly discrete subepithelial, basement membrane-associated regions. All reactive sites were sized and counted relative to specific microscopic regions. Those in the subepithelial sites were found in significantly greater numbers and larger relative area compared with the others. No reactive sites were present in normal patient controls.
Conclusions: The results demonstrate Wnt7B to be expressed at high concentrations in regions of active hyperplasia, metaplasia, and fibrotic change in IPF patients. In this context and its previously established biologic activities, Wnt7B would be expected to be of potential importance in the pathogenesis of IPF.