Fibrotic extracellular matrix induces release of extracellular vesicles with pro-fibrotic miRNA from fibrocytes

Thorax. 2021 Apr 15;thoraxjnl-2020-215962. doi: 10.1136/thoraxjnl-2020-215962. Online ahead of print.


Rationale: Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are small lipid vesicles, and EV-coupled microRNAs (miRNAs) are important modulators of biological processes. Fibrocytes are circulating bone marrow-derived cells that migrate into the injured lungs and contribute to fibrogenesis. The question of whether EV-coupled miRNAs derived from fibrocytes are able to regulate pulmonary fibrosis has not been addressed yet.

Methods: Pulmonary fibrosis was induced in rats by intratracheal administration of an adenoviral gene vector encoding active transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1) or control vector. Primary fibrocytes and fibroblasts were cultured from rat lungs and were sorted by anti-CD45 magnetic beads. Human circulating fibrocytes and fibrocytes in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF) were isolated by fibronectin-coated dishes. Fibrocytes were cultured on different stiffness plates or decellularised lung scaffolds. We also determined the effects of extracellular matrix (ECM) and recombinant TGF-β1 on the cellular and EV-coupled miRNA expression of fibrocytes.

Results: The EVs of fibrocytes derived from fibrotic lungs significantly upregulated the expression of col1a1 of fibroblasts. Culturing on rigid plates or fibrotic decellularised lung scaffolds increased miR-21-5 p expression compared with soft plates or normal lung scaffolds. Dissolved ECM collected from fibrotic lungs and recombinant TGF-β1 increased miR-21-5 p expression on fibrocytes, and these effects were attenuated on soft plates. Fibrocytes from BALF collected from fibrotic interstitial pneumonia patients showed higher miR-21-5 p expression than those from other patients.

Conclusions: Our results indicate that ECM contributes to fibrogenesis through biomechanical and biochemical effects on miRNA expression in fibrocytes.

Keywords: idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.