Macrophage-derived exosomes attenuate fibrosis in airway epithelial cells through delivery of antifibrotic miR-142-3p

Thorax. 2020 Oct;75(10):870-881. doi: 10.1136/thoraxjnl-2019-214077. Epub 2020 Aug 5.


Introduction: Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a progressive fibrosing interstitial lung disease of unknown aetiology and cure. Recent studies have reported a dysregulation of exosomal microRNAs (miRs) in the IPF context. However, the impact of IPF-related exosomal miRs on the progression of pulmonary fibrosis is unknown.

Methods: Two independent cohorts were enrolled at the ambulatory care polyclinic of Liège University. Exosomes from sputum were obtained from 19 patients with IPF and 23 healthy subjects (HSs) (cohort 1), and the ones from plasma derived from 14 patients with IPF and 14 HSs (cohort 2). Exosomal miR expression was performed by quantitative reverse transcription-PCR. The functional role of exosomal miRs was assessed in vitro by transfecting miR mimics in human alveolar epithelial cells and lung fibroblasts.

Results: Exosomal miR analysis showed that miR-142-3p was significantly upregulated in sputum and plasma of patients with IPF (8.06-fold, p<0.0001; 1.64 fold, p=0.008, respectively). Correlation analysis revealed a positive association between exosomal miR-142-3p and the percentage of macrophages from sputum of patients with IPF (r=0.576, p=0.012), suggesting macrophage origin of exosomal miR-142-3p upregulation. The overexpression of miR-142-3p in alveolar epithelial cells and lung fibroblasts was able to reduce the expression of transforming growth factor β receptor 1 (TGFβ-R1) and profibrotic genes. Furthermore, exosomes isolated from macrophages present antifibrotic properties due in part to the repression of TGFβ-R1 by miR-142-3p transfer in target cells.

Discussion: Our results suggest that macrophage-derived exosomes may fight against pulmonary fibrosis progression via the delivery of antifibrotic miR-142-3 p to alveolar epithelial cells and lung fibroblasts.

Keywords: Airway Epithelium; Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis; Interstitial Fibrosis; Macrophage Biology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alveolar Epithelial Cells / metabolism*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Exosomes / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis / metabolism*
  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis / pathology*
  • Macrophages / metabolism*
  • Male
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism*
  • Middle Aged


  • MIRN142 microRNA, human
  • MicroRNAs