Myofibroblast-specific inhibition of the Rho kinase-MRTF-SRF pathway using nanotechnology for the prevention of pulmonary fibrosis

Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2023 Feb 1;324(2):L190-L198. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00086.2022. Epub 2023 Jan 10.


Pulmonary fibrosis is characterized by the accumulation of myofibroblasts in the lung and progressive tissue scarring. Fibroblasts exist across a spectrum of states, from quiescence in health to activated myofibroblasts in the setting of injury. Highly activated myofibroblasts have a critical role in the establishment of fibrosis as the predominant source of type 1 collagen and profibrotic mediators. Myofibroblasts are also highly contractile cells and can alter lung biomechanical properties through tissue contraction. Inhibiting signaling pathways involved in myofibroblast activation could therefore have significant therapeutic value. One of the ways myofibroblast activation occurs is through activation of the Rho/myocardin-related transcription factor (MRTF)/serum response factor (SRF) pathway, which signals through intracellular actin polymerization. However, concerns surrounding the pleiotropic and ubiquitous nature of these signaling pathways have limited the translation of inhibitory drugs. Herein, we demonstrate a novel therapeutic antifibrotic strategy using myofibroblast-targeted nanoparticles containing a MTRF/SRF pathway inhibitor (CCG-1423), which has been shown to block myofibroblast activation in vitro. Myofibroblasts were preferentially targeted via the angiotensin 2 receptor, which has been shown to be selectively upregulated in animal and human studies. These nanoparticles were nontoxic and accumulated in lung myofibroblasts in the bleomycin-induced mouse model of pulmonary fibrosis, reducing the number of these activated cells and their production of profibrotic mediators. Ultimately, in a murine model of lung fibrosis, a single injection of these drugs containing targeted nanoagents reduced fibrosis as compared with control mice. This approach has the potential to deliver personalized therapy by precisely targeting signaling pathways in a cell-specific manner, allowing increased efficacy with reduced deleterious off-target effects.

Keywords: cell-specific targeting; fibrosis; myofibroblast; nanoparticles; nanotechnology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Fibrosis
  • Humans
  • Lung / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Myofibroblasts / metabolism
  • Nanotechnology
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis* / chemically induced
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis* / drug therapy
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis* / prevention & control
  • Serum Response Factor / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors* / metabolism
  • rho-Associated Kinases / metabolism


  • myocardin
  • Transcription Factors
  • Serum Response Factor
  • rho-Associated Kinases