Background: Pulmonary fibrosis may result from abnormal alveolar wound repair after injury. Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) improves alveolar epithelial wound repair in the lung. Stem cells were shown to play a major role in lung injury, repair and fibrosis. We studied the presence, origin and antifibrotic properties of HGF-expressing stem cells in usual interstitial pneumonia.
Methods: Immunohistochemistry was performed in lung tissue sections and primary alveolar epithelial cells obtained from patients with usual interstitial pneumonia (UIP, n = 7). Bone marrow derived stromal cells (BMSC) from adult male rats were transfected with HGF, instilled intratracheally into bleomycin injured rat lungs and analyzed 7 and 14 days later.
Results: In UIP, HGF was expressed in specific cells mainly located in fibrotic areas close to the hyperplastic alveolar epithelium. HGF-positive cells showed strong co-staining for the mesenchymal stem cell markers CD44, CD29, CD105 and CD90, indicating stem cell origin. HGF-positive cells also co-stained for CXCR4 (HGF+/CXCR4+) indicating that they originate from the bone marrow. The stem cell characteristics were confirmed in HGF secreting cells isolated from UIP lung biopsies. In vivo experiments showed that HGF-expressing BMSC attenuated bleomycin induced pulmonary fibrosis in the rat, indicating a beneficial role of bone marrow derived, HGF secreting stem cells in lung fibrosis.
Conclusions: HGF-positive stem cells are present in human fibrotic lung tissue (UIP) and originate from the bone marrow. Since HGF-transfected BMSC reduce bleomycin induced lung fibrosis in the bleomycin lung injury and fibrosis model, we assume that HGF-expressing, bone-marrow derived stem cells in UIP have antifibrotic properties.