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J Exp Med. 2010 Aug 2;207(8):1589-97. doi: 10.1084/jem.20100035. Epub 2010 Jul 19.

miR-21 mediates fibrogenic activation of pulmonary fibroblasts and lung fibrosis.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL 35294, USA.


Uncontrolled extracellular matrix production by fibroblasts in response to tissue injury contributes to fibrotic diseases, such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a progressive and ultimately fatal process that currently has no cure. Although dysregulation of miRNAs is known to be involved in a variety of pathophysiologic processes, the role of miRNAs in fibrotic lung diseases is unclear. In this study, we found up-regulation of miR-21 in the lungs of mice with bleomycin-induced fibrosis and also in the lungs of patients with IPF. Increased miR-21 expression was primarily localized to myofibroblasts. Administration of miR-21 antisense probes diminished the severity of experimental lung fibrosis in mice, even when treatment was started 5-7 d after initiation of pulmonary injury. TGF-beta1, a central pathological mediator of fibrotic diseases, enhanced miR-21 expression in primary pulmonary fibroblasts. Increasing miR-21 levels promoted, whereas knocking down miR-21 attenuated, the pro-fibrogenic activity of TGF-beta1 in fibroblasts. A potential mechanism for the role of miR-21 in fibrosis is through regulating the expression of an inhibitory Smad, Smad7. These experiments demonstrate an important role for miR-21 in fibrotic lung diseases and also suggest a novel approach using miRNA therapeutics in treating clinically refractory fibrotic diseases, such as IPF.

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