Fibrosis describes a maladaptive response to injury that results in pathogenic production of extracellular matrix, the formation of stiff scar tissue, and compromised organ function. Although it is most often associated with chronic liver conditions and progressive lung disease, fibrosis can affect any organ of the body. There are few treatment options for this progressive, often fatal condition, but as ongoing research identifies the molecular pathways that initiate and propagate fibrotic remodeling, therapeutic possibilities may become available. The reviews in this series discuss recent insights into genetic predisposition to fibrotic disorders, the origins of fibroblasts and myofibroblasts, scar tissue formation, organ regeneration, and more, revealing opportunities to interrupt or even reverse disease progression.
Intratumoral fibrosis results from the deposition of a cross-linked collagen matrix by cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs). This type of fibrosis has been shown to exert mechanical forces and create a biochemical milieu that, together, shape intratumoral immunity and influence tumor cell metastatic behavior. In this Review, we present recent evidence that CAFs and tumor cells are regulated by provisional matrix molecules, that metastasis results from a change in the type of stromal collagen cross-link, and that fibrosis and inflammation perpetuate each other through proteolytic and chemotactic mediators released into the tumor stroma. We also discuss aspects of the emerging biology that have potential therapeutic value.
Mitsuo Yamauchi, Thomas H. Barker, Don L. Gibbons, Jonathan M. Kurie
Fibroblasts synthesize the extracellular matrix of connective tissue and play an essential role in maintaining the structural integrity of most tissues. Researchers have long suspected that fibroblasts exhibit functional specialization according to their organ of origin, body site, and spatial location. In recent years, a number of approaches have revealed the existence of fibroblast subtypes in mice. Here, we discuss fibroblast heterogeneity with a focus on the mammalian dermis, which has proven an accessible and tractable system for the dissection of these relationships. We begin by considering differences in fibroblast identity according to anatomical site of origin. Subsequently, we discuss new results relating to the existence of multiple fibroblast subtypes within the mouse dermis. We consider the developmental origin of fibroblasts and how this influences heterogeneity and lineage restriction. We discuss the mechanisms by which fibroblast heterogeneity arises, including intrinsic specification by transcriptional regulatory networks and epigenetic factors in combination with extrinsic effects of the spatial context within tissue. Finally, we discuss how fibroblast heterogeneity may provide insights into pathological states including wound healing, fibrotic diseases, and aging. Our evolving understanding suggests that ex vivo expansion or in vivo inhibition of specific fibroblast subtypes may have important therapeutic applications.
Magnus D. Lynch, Fiona M. Watt
Genetic investigations of fibrotic diseases, including those of late onset, often yield unanticipated insights into disease pathogenesis. This Review focuses on pathways underlying lung fibrosis that are generalizable to other organs. Herein, we discuss genetic variants subdivided into those that shorten telomeres, activate the DNA damage response, change resident protein expression or function, or affect organelle activity. Genetic studies provide a window into the downstream cascade of maladaptive responses and pathways that lead to tissue fibrosis. In addition, these studies reveal interactions between genetic variants, environmental factors, and age that influence the phenotypic spectrum of disease. The discovery of forces counterbalancing inherited risk alleles identifies potential therapeutic targets, thus providing hope for future prevention or reversal of fibrosis.
Christine Kim Garcia
The extracellular matrix (ECM) is dynamically tuned to optimize physiological function. Its major properties, including composition and mechanics, profoundly influence cell biology. Cell-ECM interactions operate through an integrated set of sensor and effector circuits that use several classes of receptors and signal transduction pathways. At the single-cell level, the ECM governs differentiation, metabolism, motility, orientation, proliferation, and survival. At the cell population level, the ECM provides higher-order guidance that is essential for physiological function. When pathological changes in the ECM lead to impairment of organ function, we use the term “fibrosis.” In this Review, we differentiate fibrosis initiation from progression and focus primarily on progressive lung fibrosis impairing organ function. We present a working model to explain how the altered ECM is not only a consequence but also a driver of fibrosis. Additionally, we advance the concept that fibrosis progression occurs in a fibrogenic niche that is composed of a fibrogenic ECM that nurtures fibrogenic mesenchymal progenitor cells and their fibrogenic progeny.
Jeremy Herrera, Craig A. Henke, Peter B. Bitterman
The ability to repair tissues is essential for the survival of organisms. In chronic settings, the failure of the repair process to terminate results in overproduction of collagen, a pathology known as fibrosis, which compromises organ recovery and impairs function. The origin of the collagen-overproducing cell has been debated for years. Here we review recent insights gained from the use of lineage tracing approaches in several organs. The resulting evidence points toward specific subsets of tissue-resident mesenchymal cells, mainly localized in a perivascular position, as the major source for collagen-producing cells after injury. We discuss these findings in view of the functional heterogeneity of mesenchymal cells of the perivascular niche, which have essential vascular, immune, and regenerative functions that need to be preserved for efficient repair.
Selene E. Di Carlo, Lucie Peduto
Eukaryotic cells contain an elegant protein quality control system that is crucial in maintaining cellular homeostasis; however, dysfunction of this system results in endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and activation of the unfolded protein response (UPR). Severe or prolonged ER stress is associated with the development of degenerative and fibrotic disorders in multiple organs, as evidenced by the identification of disease-causing mutations in epithelial-restricted genes that lead to protein misfolding or mistrafficking in familial fibrotic diseases. Emerging evidence implicates ER stress and UPR signaling in a variety of profibrotic mechanisms in individual cell types. In epithelial cells, ER stress can induce apoptosis, inflammatory signaling, and epithelial-mesenchymal transition. In other cell types, ER stress is linked to myofibroblast activation, macrophage polarization, and T cell differentiation. ER stress–targeted therapies have begun to emerge using approaches that range from global enhancement of chaperone function to selective targeting of activated ER stress sensors and other downstream mediators. As the complex regulatory mechanisms of this system are further clarified, there are opportunities to develop new disease-modifying therapeutic strategies in a wide range of chronic fibrotic diseases.
Jonathan A. Kropski, Timothy S. Blackwell
Tissue injury disrupts the mechanical homeostasis that underlies normal tissue architecture and function. The failure to resolve injury and restore homeostasis gives rise to progressive fibrosis that is accompanied by persistent alterations in the mechanical environment as a consequence of pathological matrix deposition and stiffening. This Review focuses on our rapidly growing understanding of the molecular mechanisms linking the altered mechanical environment in injury, repair, and fibrosis to cellular activation. In particular, our focus is on the mechanisms by which cells transduce mechanical signals, leading to transcriptional and epigenetic responses that underlie both transient and persistent alterations in cell state that contribute to fibrosis. Translation of these mechanobiological insights may enable new approaches to promote tissue repair and arrest or reverse fibrotic tissue remodeling.
Daniel J. Tschumperlin, Giovanni Ligresti, Moira B. Hilscher, Vijay H. Shah
Epithelial cell loss alters a tissue’s optimal function and awakens evolutionarily adapted healing mechanisms to reestablish homeostasis. Although adult mammalian organs have a limited regeneration potential, the liver stands out as one remarkable exception. Following injury, the liver mounts a dynamic multicellular response wherein stromal cells are activated in situ and/or recruited from the bloodstream, the extracellular matrix (ECM) is remodeled, and epithelial cells expand to replenish their lost numbers. Chronic damage makes this response persistent instead of transient, tipping the system into an abnormal steady state known as fibrosis, in which ECM accumulates excessively and tissue function degenerates. Here we explore the cellular and molecular switches that balance hepatic regeneration and fibrosis, with a focus on uncovering avenues of disease modeling and therapeutic intervention.
Lucía Cordero-Espinoza, Meritxell Huch
Fibrosis is the excessive accumulation of extracellular matrix that often occurs as a wound healing response to repeated or chronic tissue injury, and may lead to the disruption of organ architecture and loss of function. Although fibrosis was previously thought to be irreversible, recent evidence indicates that certain circumstances permit the resolution of fibrosis when the underlying causes of injury are eradicated. The mechanism of fibrosis resolution encompasses degradation of the fibrotic extracellular matrix as well as elimination of fibrogenic myofibroblasts through their adaptation of various cell fates, including apoptosis, senescence, dedifferentiation, and reprogramming. In this Review, we discuss the present knowledge and gaps in our understanding of how matrix degradation is regulated and how myofibroblast cell fates can be manipulated, areas that may identify potential therapeutic approaches for fibrosis.
Joon-Il Jun, Lester F. Lau