Alveolar epithelial cell death adjacent to underlying myofibroblasts in advanced fibrotic human lung

Am J Physiol. 1998 Dec;275(6):L1192-9. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.1998.275.6.L1192.


Earlier work from this laboratory showed that abnormal fibroblast phenotypes isolated from fibrotic human lung produce factor(s) capable of inducing apoptosis and necrosis of alveolar epithelial cells in vitro [B. D. Uhal, I. Joshi, A. True, S. Mundle, A. Raza, A. Pardo, and M. Selman. Am. J. Physiol. 269 (Lung Cell. Mol. Physiol. 13): L819-L828, 1995]. To determine whether epithelial cell death is associated with proximity to abnormal fibroblasts in vivo, the spatial distribution of epithelial cell loss, DNA fragmentation, and myofibroblasts was examined in the same tissue specimens used previously for fibroblast isolation. Paraffin sections of normal and fibrotic human lung were subjected to in situ end labeling (ISEL) of fragmented DNA and simultaneous immunolabeling of alpha-smooth muscle actin (alpha-SMA); replicate samples were subjected to electron microscopy and detection of collagens by the picrosirius red technique. Normal human lung exhibited very little labeling except for positive alpha-SMA immunoreactivity of smooth muscle surrounding bronchi and vessels. In contrast, fibrotic human lung exhibited moderate to heavy ISEL of interstitial, cuboidal epithelial, and free alveolar cells. ISEL of the alveolar epithelium was not distributed uniformly but was most intense immediately adjacent to underlying foci of alpha-SMA-positive fibroblast-like interstitial cells. Both electron microscopy and picrosirius red confirmed epithelial cell apoptosis, necrosis, and cell loss adjacent to foci of collagen accumulation surrounding fibroblast-like cells. These results demonstrate that the cuboidal epithelium of the fibrotic lung contains dying as well as proliferating cells and support the hypothesis that alveolar epithelial cell death is induced by abnormal lung fibroblasts in vivo as it is in vitro.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Cell Death / physiology
  • Collagen / metabolism
  • DNA Fragmentation
  • Fibroblasts / pathology*
  • Humans
  • In Situ Nick-End Labeling
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Muscle, Smooth / pathology*
  • Necrosis
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / metabolism
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / pathology*
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / genetics
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / metabolism
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / pathology*
  • Reference Values


  • Collagen