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PLoS One. 2014 Apr 11;9(4):e94616. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0094616. eCollection 2014.

IPF fibroblasts are desensitized to type I collagen matrix-induced cell death by suppressing low autophagy via aberrant Akt/mTOR kinases.

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Department of Medicine, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States of America.


Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a chronic, lethal interstitial lung disease in which the aberrant PTEN/Akt axis plays a major role in conferring a survival phenotype in response to the cell death inducing properties of type I collagen matrix. The underlying mechanism by which IPF fibroblasts become desensitized to polymerized collagen, thereby eluding collagen matrix-induced cell death has not been fully elucidated. We hypothesized that the pathologically altered PTEN/Akt axis suppresses autophagy via high mTOR kinase activity, which subsequently desensitizes IPF fibroblasts to collagen matrix induced cell death. We found that the autophagosome marker LC3-2 expression is suppressed, while mTOR activity remains high when IPF fibroblasts are cultured on collagen. However, LC3-2 expression increased in response to IPF fibroblast attachment to collagen in the presence of rapamycin. In addition, PTEN over-expression or Akt inhibition suppressed mTOR activity, thereby increasing LC3-2 expression in IPF fibroblasts. Furthermore, the treatment of IPF fibroblasts over-expressing PTEN or dominant negative Akt with autophagy inhibitors increased IPF fibroblast cell death. Enhanced p-mTOR expression along with low LC3-2 expression was also found in myofibroblasts within the fibroblastic foci from IPF patients. Our data show that the aberrant PTEN/Akt/mTOR axis desensitizes IPF fibroblasts from polymerized collagen driven stress by suppressing autophagic activity, which produces a viable IPF fibroblast phenotype on collagen. This suggests that the aberrantly regulated autophagic pathway may play an important role in maintaining a pathological IPF fibroblast phenotype in response to collagen rich environment.

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