Greater than 25% of all men develop an inguinal hernia in their lifetime, and more than 20 million inguinal hernia repair surgeries are performed worldwide each year. The mechanisms causing abdominal muscle weakness, the formation of inguinal hernias, or their recurrence are largely unknown. We previously reported that excessively produced estrogen in the lower abdominal muscles (LAMs) triggers extensive LAM fibrosis, leading to hernia formation in a transgenic male mouse model expressing the human aromatase gene (Aromhum). To understand the cellular basis of estrogen-driven muscle fibrosis, we performed single-cell RNA sequencing on LAM tissue from Aromhum and wild-type littermates. We found a fibroblast-like cell group composed of 6 clusters, 2 of which were validated for their enrichment in Aromhum LAM tissue. One of the potentially novel hernia-associated fibroblast clusters in Aromhum was enriched for the estrogen receptor-α gene (Esr1hi). Esr1hi fibroblasts maximally expressed estrogen target genes and seemed to serve as the progenitors of another cluster expressing ECM-altering enzymes (Mmp3hi) and to upregulate expression of proinflammatory, profibrotic genes. The discovery of these 2 potentially novel and unique hernia-associated fibroblasts may lead to the development of novel treatments that can nonsurgically prevent or reverse inguinal hernias.
Keywords: Endocrinology; Fibrosis; Muscle Biology; Sex hormones; Skeletal muscle.