Differential immunolocalization of VEGF in rat and human adult lung, and in experimental rat lung fibrosis: light, fluorescence, and electron microscopy

Anat Rec. 1999 Jan;254(1):61-73. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0185(19990101)254:1<61::AID-AR8>3.0.CO;2-D.


Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a cytokine with main angiogenetic functions in embryonic development and tumor-formation. In the adult lung, reports of the localization of VEGF were controversial. A precise cell typing of VEGF-positive pulmonary cells is still lacking. Nothing is known about a potential role in pulmonary fibrosis. Immunohistochemistry (IH), double immunofluorescence microscopy (DIF), and immunoelectron microscopy (IEM) were used to study the differential distribution of VEGF in paraffin-embedded (IH, DIF) and in cryo-substituted, Lowicryl-embedded (IEM) specimens of normal rat and human lungs and fibrotic rat lungs. Fibrosis was induced by intratracheal bleomycin treatment. IH and DIF showed that VEGF was present in surfactant protein (SP) D-positive alveolar type II pneumocytes, bronchiolar Clara cells, smooth muscle (SM) cells, and alpha-SM actin-positive myofibroblasts of normal rat and human lungs. Fibrotic lesions in bleomycin-treated rat lungs were rich in VEGF-positive cells presenting with a heterogeneous phenotype (mainly SP-D-positive type II pneumocytes, alpha-SM actin-positive myofibroblasts). There were no signs of angiogenesis. Post-embedding immunogold labeling using protein A-gold and IgG-gold technique revealed a specific localization of VEGF to mitochondria, Clara cell secretory granules, and capillary interendothelial cell junctions. The predominant localization of VEGF to bronchiolar and alveolar epithelial and alpha-SM actin-positive cells, and the marked increase of VEGF-positive type II pneumocytes and myofibroblasts in fibrotic lung lesions, indicate that in adult lungs VEGF is involved in processes other than angiogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Bleomycin / toxicity
  • Endothelial Growth Factors / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lung / anatomy & histology*
  • Lung / metabolism*
  • Lung / ultrastructure
  • Lymphokines / metabolism*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Microscopy, Immunoelectron
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / chemically induced
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / metabolism*
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / pathology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factors


  • Endothelial Growth Factors
  • Lymphokines
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factors
  • Bleomycin