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Am J Pathol. 1993 Dec;143(6):1754-65.

Rat alveolar myofibroblasts acquire alpha-smooth muscle actin expression during bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Centre M├ędical Universitaire, Geneva, Switzerland.


The majority of fibroblasts in alveolar septa are characterized by the presence of cytoplasmic bundles of microfilaments that contain cytoplasmic actin isoforms; these cells have been named contractile interstitial cells or V-type myofibroblasts. In the rat, they express desmin as intermediate filament protein. In this study, we explored the possibility that modulation and replication of such septal fibroblasts result in the appearance of alpha-smooth muscle (alpha-SM) actin-positive myofibroblasts, typical of lung fibrosis. Experimental pulmonary fibrosis was produced by a unique intratracheal instillation of bleomycin to 28 rats. Eight additional rats used as controls received the equivalent volume of saline. Paraffin and frozen sections of lungs were examined at days 1, 3, 5 and 7 after treatment. Microfilaments and intermediate filaments were stained using antibodies against total actin, alpha-SM actin, desmin, vimentin, keratin, and SM myosin. Electron microscopic labeling of desmin and alpha-SM actin using immunogold technique was done on Lowicryl K4M resin-embedded specimens. alpha-SM actin appeared in desmin-positive alveolar fibroblasts as early as 24 hours after intratracheal bleomycin instillation; the modulation of alpha-SM actin in these cells was preceded by a lymphomonocytic infiltration of alveolar septa. Twenty-four hours to 3 days after bleomycin administration, a proliferation of alveolar myofibroblasts occurred. Fibrosis with laying down of collagen fibers took place after the above mentioned cellular modifications. Our results support the view that septal fibroblastic cells can modulate into typical alpha-SM actin-containing myofibroblasts during experimental bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis. In such a modulation a possible role of cytokines, particularly of transforming growth factor-beta, is considered.

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