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Detection of epithelial to mesenchymal transition in airways of a bleomycin induced pulmonary fibrosis model derived from an α-smooth muscle actin-Cre transgenic mouse

Author(s): Wu Zhuang | Yang Leilei | Cai Lin | Zhang Min | Cheng Xuan | Yang Xiao | Xu Jun

Journal: Respiratory Research
ISSN 1465-9921

Volume: 8;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 1;
Date: 2007;
Original page

Abstract Background Epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) in alveolar epithelial cells (AECs) has been widely observed in patients suffering interstitial pulmonary fibrosis. In vitro studies have also demonstrated that AECs could convert into myofibroblasts following exposure to TGF-β1. In this study, we examined whether EMT occurs in bleomycin (BLM) induced pulmonary fibrosis, and the involvement of bronchial epithelial cells (BECs) in the EMT. Using an α-smooth muscle actin-Cre transgenic mouse (α-SMA-Cre/R26R) strain, we labelled myofibroblasts in vivo. We also performed a phenotypic analysis of human BEC lines during TGF-β1 stimulation in vitro. Methods We generated the α-SMA-Cre mouse strain by pronuclear microinjection with a Cre recombinase cDNA driven by the mouse α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) promoter. α-SMA-Cre mice were crossed with the Cre-dependent LacZ expressing strain R26R to produce the double transgenic strain α-SMA-Cre/R26R. β-galactosidase (βgal) staining, α-SMA and smooth muscle myosin heavy chains immunostaining were carried out simultaneously to confirm the specificity of expression of the transgenic reporter within smooth muscle cells (SMCs) under physiological conditions. BLM-induced peribronchial fibrosis in α-SMA-Cre/R26R mice was examined by pulmonary βgal staining and α-SMA immunofluorescence staining. To confirm in vivo observations of BECs undergoing EMT, we stimulated human BEC line 16HBE with TGF-β1 and examined the localization of the myofibroblast markers α-SMA and F-actin, and the epithelial marker E-cadherin by immunofluorescence. Results βgal staining in organs of healthy α-SMA-Cre/R26R mice corresponded with the distribution of SMCs, as confirmed by α-SMA and SM-MHC immunostaining. BLM-treated mice showed significantly enhanced βgal staining in subepithelial areas in bronchi, terminal bronchioles and walls of pulmonary vessels. Some AECs in certain peribronchial areas or even a small subset of BECs were also positively stained, as confirmed by α-SMA immunostaining. In vitro, addition of TGF-β1 to 16HBE cells could also stimulate the expression of α-SMA and F-actin, while E-cadherin was decreased, consistent with an EMT. Conclusion We observed airway EMT in BLM-induced peribronchial fibrosis mice. BECs, like AECs, have the capacity to undergo EMT and to contribute to mesenchymal expansion in pulmonary fibrosis.
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