RNA Sequencing of Epithelial Cell/Fibroblastic Foci Sandwich in Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis: New Insights on the Signaling Pathway

Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Mar 19;23(6):3323. doi: 10.3390/ijms23063323.


Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a progressive and fatal lung disease characterized by irreversible scarring of the distal lung. IPF is best described by its histopathological pattern of usual interstitial pneumonia (UIP), characterized by spatial heterogeneity with alternating interstitial fibrosis and areas of normal lung, and temporal heterogeneity of fibrosis characterized by scattered fibroblastic foci (FF), dense acellular collagen and honeycomb changes. FF, comprising aggregated fibroblasts/myofibroblasts surrounded by metaplastic epithelial cells (EC), are the cardinal pathological lesion and their presence strongly correlates with disease progression and mortality. We hypothesized that the EC/FF sandwich from patients with UIP/IPF has a distinct molecular signature which could offer new insights into the crosstalk of these two crucial actors in the disease. Laser capture microdissection with RNAseq was used to investigate the transcriptome of the EC/FF sandwich from IPF patients versus controls (primary spontaneous pneumothorax). Differentially expressed gene analysis identified 23 up-regulated genes mainly related to epithelial dysfunction. Gene ontology analysis highlighted the activation of different pathways, mainly related to EC, immune response and programmed cell death. This study provides novel insights into the IPF pathogenetic pathways and suggests that targeting some of these up-regulated pathways (particularly those related to secreto-protein/mucin dysfunction) may be beneficial in IPF. Further studies in a larger number of lung samples, ideally from patients with early and advanced disease, are needed to validate these findings.

Keywords: RNA-sequencing; fibroblastic foci; idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis; transcriptomic.

MeSH terms

  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Fibrosis
  • Humans
  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis* / metabolism
  • Lung / pathology
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Signal Transduction / genetics