Rationale: TGF-β, a mediator of pulmonary fibrosis, is a genetic modifier of CF respiratory deterioration. The mechanistic relationship between TGF-β signaling and CF lung disease has not been determined.
Objective: To investigate myofibroblast differentiation in CF lung tissue as a novel pathway by which TGF-β signaling may contribute to pulmonary decline, airway remodeling and tissue fibrosis.
Methods: Lung samples from CF and non-CF subjects were analyzed morphometrically for total TGF-β1, TGF-β signaling (Smad2 phosphorylation), myofibroblast differentiation (α-smooth muscle actin), and collagen deposition (Masson trichrome stain).
Results: TGF-β signaling and fibrosis are markedly increased in CF (p<0.01), and the presence of myofibroblasts is four-fold higher in CF vs. normal lung tissue (p<0.005). In lung tissue with prominent TGF-β signaling, both myofibroblast differentiation and tissue fibrosis are significantly augmented (p<0.005).
Conclusions: These studies establish for the first time that a pathogenic mechanism described previously in pulmonary fibrosis is also prominent in cystic fibrosis lung disease. The presence of TGF-β dependent signaling in areas of prominent myofibroblast proliferation and fibrosis in CF suggests that strategies under development for other pro-fibrotic lung conditions may also be evaluated for use in CF.