Cystic fibrosis is characterized by lung dysfunction involving mucus hypersecretion, bacterial infections, and inflammatory response. Inflammation triggers pro-fibrotic signals that compromise lung structure and function. At present, several in vitro cystic fibrosis models have been developed to study epithelial dysfunction but none of these focuses on stromal alterations. Here we show a new cystic fibrosis 3D stromal lung model made up of primary fibroblasts embedded in their own extracellular matrix and investigate its morphological and transcriptomic features. Cystic fibrosis fibroblasts showed a high proliferation rate and produced an abundant and chaotic matrix with increased protein content and elastic modulus. More interesting, they had enhanced pro-fibrotic markers and genes involved in epithelial function and inflammatory response. In conclusion, our study reveals that cystic fibrosis fibroblasts maintain in vitro an activated pro-fibrotic state. This abnormality may play in vivo a role in the modulation of epithelial and inflammatory cell behavior and lung remodeling. We argue that the proposed bioengineered model may provide new insights on epithelial/stromal/inflammatory cells crosstalk in cystic fibrosis, paving the way for novel therapeutic strategies.
Keywords: 3D bioengineered model; RNA sequencing; connective airway tissue; cystic fibrosis; extracellular matrix; lung fibroblasts.