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J Immunol. 2003 Jul 1;171(1):380-9.

Identification of circulating fibrocytes as precursors of bronchial myofibroblasts in asthma.

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  • 1Avail Biomedical Research Institute and Avail GmbH, Basel, Switzerland.


The mechanisms contributing to airway wall remodeling in asthma are under investigation to identify appropriate therapeutic targets. Bronchial myofibroblasts would represent an important target because they play a crucial role in the genesis of subepithelial fibrosis, a characteristic feature of the remodeling process, but their origin is poorly understood. We hypothesized that they originate from fibrocytes, circulating cells with the unique characteristic of expressing the hemopoietic stem cell Ag CD34 and collagen I. In this study we show that allergen exposure induces the accumulation of fibrocyte-like cells in the bronchial mucosa of patients with allergic asthma. These cells are CD34-positive; express collagen I and alpha-smooth muscle actin, a marker of myofibroblasts; and localize to areas of collagen deposition below the epithelium. By tracking labeled circulating fibrocytes in a mouse model of allergic asthma, we provide evidence that fibrocytes are indeed recruited into the bronchial tissue following allergen exposure and differentiate into myofibroblasts. We also show that human circulating fibrocytes acquire the myofibroblast phenotype under in vitro stimulation with fibrogenic cytokines that are produced in exaggerated quantities in asthmatic airways. These results indicate that circulating fibrocytes may function as myofibroblast precursors and may contribute to the genesis of subepithelial fibrosis in asthma.

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