Engineered Fibroblast Extracellular Vesicles Attenuate Pulmonary Inflammation and Fibrosis in Bleomycin-Induced Lung Injury

Front Cell Dev Biol. 2021 Sep 23;9:733158. doi: 10.3389/fcell.2021.733158. eCollection 2021.


Pulmonary fibrosis is a progressive disease for which no curative treatment exists. We have previously engineered dermal fibroblasts to produce extracellular vesicles with tissue reparative properties dubbed activated specialized tissue effector extracellular vesicles (ASTEX). Here, we investigate the therapeutic utility of ASTEX in vitro and in a mouse model of bleomycin-induced lung injury. RNA sequencing demonstrates that ASTEX are enriched in micro-RNAs (miRs) cargo compared with EVs from untransduced dermal fibroblast EVs (DF-EVs). Treating primary macrophages with ASTEX reduced interleukin (IL)6 expression and increased IL10 expression compared with DF-EV-exposed macrophages. Furthermore, exposure of human lung fibroblasts or vascular endothelial cells to ASTEX reduced expression of smooth muscle actin, a hallmark of myofibroblast differentiation (respectively). In vivo, intratracheal administration of ASTEX in naïve healthy mice demonstrated a favorable safety profile with no changes in body weight, lung weight to body weight, fibrotic burden, or histological score 3 weeks postexposure. In an acute phase (short-term) bleomycin model of lung injury, ASTEX reduced lung weight to body weight, IL6 expression, and circulating monocytes. In a long-term setting, ASTEX improved survival and reduced fibrotic content in lung tissue. These results suggest potential immunomodulatory and antifibrotic properties of ASTEX in lung injury.

Keywords: extracellular vesicles (EVs); fibrosis; genetic engineering; inflammation; lung injury; regenerative therapy.