The impact of lipotoxicity on the development of lung fibrosis is unclear. Saturated fatty acids, such as palmitic acid (PA), activate endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress, a cellular stress response associated with the development of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). We tested the hypothesis that PA increases susceptibility to lung epithelial cell death and experimental fibrosis by modulating ER stress. Total liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry were used to measure fatty acid content in IPF lungs. Wild-type mice were fed a high-fat diet (HFD) rich in PA or a standard diet and subjected to bleomycin-induced lung injury. Lung fibrosis was determined by hydroxyproline content. Mouse lung epithelial cells were treated with PA. ER stress and cell death were assessed by Western blotting, TUNEL staining, and cell viability assays. IPF lungs had a higher level of PA compared with controls. Bleomycin-exposed mice fed an HFD had significantly increased pulmonary fibrosis associated with increased cell death and ER stress compared with those fed a standard diet. PA increased apoptosis and activation of the unfolded protein response in lung epithelial cells. This was attenuated by genetic deletion and chemical inhibition of CD36, a fatty acid transporter. In conclusion, consumption of an HFD rich in saturated fat increases susceptibility to lung fibrosis and ER stress, and PA mediates lung epithelial cell death and ER stress via CD36. These findings demonstrate that lipotoxicity may have a significant impact on the development of lung injury and fibrosis by enhancing pro-death ER stress pathways.
Keywords: CD36; endoplasmic reticulum stress; high-fat diet; lung epithelium; pulmonary fibrosis.