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Cell Tissue Res. 2012 Jun;348(3):491-503. doi: 10.1007/s00441-012-1385-9. Epub 2012 Mar 22.

Regulation of TGF-β storage and activation in the human idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis lung.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary Medicine, University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, Finland.


Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a progressive disease of unknown cause. The pathogenesis of the disease is characterized by fibroblast accumulation and excessive transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) activation. Although TGF-β activation is a complex process involving various protein interactions, little is known of the specific routes of TGF-β storage and activation in human lung. Here, we have systematically analyzed the expression of specific proteins involved in extracellular matrix targeting and activation of TGF-β. Latent TGF-β-binding protein (LTBP)-1 was found to be significantly upregulated in IPF patient lungs. LTBP-1 expression was especially high in the fibroblastic foci, in which P-Smad2 immunoreactivity, indicative of TGF-β signaling activity, was less prominent. In cultured primary lung fibroblasts and epithelial cells, short-interfering-RNA-mediated downregulation of LTBP-1 resulted in either increased or decreased TGF-β signaling activity, respectively, suggesting that LTBP-1-mediated TGF-β activation is dependent on the cellular context in the lung. Furthermore, LTBP-1 was shown to colocalize with fibronectin, fibrillin-1 and fibrillin-2 proteins in the IPF lung. Fibrillin-2, a developmental gene expressed only in blood vessels in normal adult lung, was found specifically upregulated in IPF fibroblastic foci. The TGF-β-activating integrin β8 subunit was expressed at low levels in both control and IPF lungs. Alterations in extracellular matrix composition, such as high levels of the TGF-β storage protein LTBP-1 and the re-appearance of fibrillin-2, probably modulate TGF-β availability and activation in different pulmonary compartments in the fibrotic lung.

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