The prognosis of elderly individuals with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) remains poor. Fibroblastic foci, in which aggregates of proliferating fibroblasts and myofibroblasts are involved, are the pathological hallmark lesions in IPF to represent focal areas of active fibrogenesis. Fibroblast heterogeneity in fibrotic lesions hampers the discovery of the pathogenesis of pulmonary fibrosis. Therefore, to determine of the pathogenesis of IPF, identification of functional fibroblasts is warranted. This study was aimed to determine the role of fibroblasts positive for meflin, identified as a potential marker for mesenchymal stromal cells, during the development of pulmonary fibrosis. We characterised meflin-positive cells in a single cell atlas established by single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq)-based profiling of 243 472 cells from 32 IPF lungs and 29 normal lung samples. scRNA-seq combined with in situ RNA hybridisation identified proliferating fibroblasts positive for meflin in fibroblastic foci, not dense fibrosis, of fibrotic lungs in IPF patients. We determined the role of fibroblasts positive for meflin using bleomycin (BLM)-induced pulmonary fibrosis. A BLM-induced lung fibrosis model for meflin-deficient mice showed that fibroblasts positive for meflin had anti-fibrotic property to prevent pulmonary fibrosis. Although transforming growth factor-β-induced fibrogenesis and cell senescence with senescence-associated secretory phenotype were exacerbated in fibroblasts via the repression or lack of meflin, these were inhibited in meflin-deficient fibroblasts with meflin reconstitution. These findings provide evidence to show the biological importance of meflin expression on fibroblasts and myofibroblasts in the active fibrotic region of pulmonary fibrosis.
Yoshio Nakahara, Naozumi Hashimoto, Koji Sakamoto, Atsushi Enomoto, Taylor S Adams, Toyoharu Yokoi, Norihito Omote, Sergio Poli, Akira Ando, Keiko Wakahara, Atsushi Suzuki, Masahide Inoue, Akitoshi Hara, Yasuyuki Mizutani, Kazuyoshi Imaizumi, Tsutomu Kawabe, Ivan O Rosas, Masahide Takahashi, Naftali Kaminski, Yoshinori Hasegawa