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      Inflammatory macrophages can transdifferentiate into myofibroblasts during renal fibrosis

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          Myofibroblasts play a central role in renal fibrosis although the origin of these cells remains controversial. We recently reported that bone marrow-derived macrophages can give rise to myofibroblasts through macrophage to myofibroblast transition (MMT). However, several important issues remain to be addressed, including whether MMT occurs in human kidney disease and verification of the MMT process through lineage tracing. Biopsies from a cohort of 58 patients with various forms of kidney disease were examined for MMT cells that co-express macrophage (CD68) and myofibroblast ( α-smooth muscle actin, α-SMA) markers. MMT cells were evident in active fibrotic lesions, but were largely absent in acute inflammatory or sclerotic lesions, suggesting that MMT cells contribute to progressive renal fibrosis. Fate-mapping studies in LysM Cre Tomato mice identified substantial numbers of Tomato + myeloid cells with F4/80 + macrophage phenotype expressing α-SMA and collagen I in the unilateral ureteral obstructive model of renal fibrosis, providing direct evidence for the MMT process during the development of renal fibrosis. In addition, MMT cells had a predominant M2 phenotype in both human and mouse renal fibrosis. Finally, selective depletion of myeloid cells via diphtheria toxin in LysM Cre iDTR mice largely abolished macrophage infiltration and MMT cells in the obstructed kidney and substantially reduced accumulation of α-SMA + myofibroblasts and collagen deposition, revealing a pathogenic role for inflammatory macrophages in MMT and tissue fibrosis. In conclusion, these findings provide substantial new data to support the postulate that macrophages can directly transdifferentiate into collagen-producing myofibroblasts in human and experimental kidney disease.

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          Most cited references 34

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          Origin and function of myofibroblasts in kidney fibrosis.

          Myofibroblasts are associated with organ fibrosis, but their precise origin and functional role remain unknown. We used multiple genetically engineered mice to track, fate map and ablate cells to determine the source and function of myofibroblasts in kidney fibrosis. Through this comprehensive analysis, we identified that the total pool of myofibroblasts is split, with 50% arising from local resident fibroblasts through proliferation. The nonproliferating myofibroblasts derive through differentiation from bone marrow (35%), the endothelial-to-mesenchymal transition program (10%) and the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition program (5%). Specific deletion of Tgfbr2 in α-smooth muscle actin (αSMA)(+) cells revealed the importance of this pathway in the recruitment of myofibroblasts through differentiation. Using genetic mouse models and a fate-mapping strategy, we determined that vascular pericytes probably do not contribute to the emergence of myofibroblasts or fibrosis. Our data suggest that targeting diverse pathways is required to substantially inhibit the composite accumulation of myofibroblasts in kidney fibrosis.
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            Fibroblasts in kidney fibrosis emerge via endothelial-to-mesenchymal transition.

            Fibroblasts are key mediators of fibrosis in the kidney and other organs, but their origin during fibrosis is still not completely clear. Activated fibroblasts likely arise from resident quiescent fibroblasts via epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition and from the bone marrow. Here, we demonstrate that endothelial cells also contribute to the emergence of fibroblasts during kidney fibrosis via the process of endothelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EndMT). We examined the contribution of EndMT to renal fibrosis in three mouse models of chronic kidney disease: (1) Unilateral ureteral obstructive nephropathy, (2) streptozotocin-induced diabetic nephropathy, and (3) a model of Alport renal disease. Approximately 30 to 50% of fibroblasts coexpressed the endothelial marker CD31 and markers of fibroblasts and myofibroblasts such as fibroblast specific protein-1 and alpha-smooth muscle actin. Endothelial lineage tracing using Tie2-Cre;R26R-stop-EYFP transgenic mice further confirmed the presence of EndMT-derived fibroblasts. Collectively, our results demonstrate that EndMT contributes to the accumulation of activated fibroblasts and myofibroblasts in kidney fibrosis and suggest that targeting EndMT might have therapeutic potential.
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              Evidence that fibroblasts derive from epithelium during tissue fibrosis.

              Interstitial fibroblasts are principal effector cells of organ fibrosis in kidneys, lungs, and liver. While some view fibroblasts in adult tissues as nothing more than primitive mesenchymal cells surviving embryologic development, they differ from mesenchymal cells in their unique expression of fibroblast-specific protein-1 (FSP1). This difference raises questions about their origin. Using bone marrow chimeras and transgenic reporter mice, we show here that interstitial kidney fibroblasts derive from two sources. A small number of FSP1(+), CD34(-) fibroblasts migrate to normal interstitial spaces from bone marrow. More surprisingly, however, FSP1(+) fibroblasts also arise in large numbers by local epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) during renal fibrogenesis. Both populations of fibroblasts express collagen type I and expand by cell division during tissue fibrosis. Our findings suggest that a substantial number of organ fibroblasts appear through a novel reversal in the direction of epithelial cell fate. As a general mechanism, this change in fate highlights the potential plasticity of differentiated cells in adult tissues under pathologic conditions.

                Author and article information

                Cell Death Dis
                Cell Death Dis
                Cell Death & Disease
                Nature Publishing Group
                December 2016
                01 December 2016
                1 December 2016
                : 7
                : 12
                : e2495
                [1 ]Li Ka Shing Institute of Health Sciences, Department of Medicine & Therapeutics, The Chinese University of Hong Kong , Hong Kong SAR, China
                [2 ]School of Pharmacy, Anhui Medical University , Anhui, China
                [3 ]Department of Chemical Pathology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong , Hong Kong SAR, China
                [4 ]Department of Anatomical and Cellular Pathology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong , Hong Kong SAR, China
                [5 ]Department of Nephrology and Monash University Centre for Inflammatory Diseases, Monash Medical Centre , Clayton, VIC 3168, Australia
                Author notes
                [* ]Li Ka Shing Institute of Health Sciences, The Chinese University of Hong Kong , Hong Kong 999077, China. Tel: +852 3763 6077; Fax: +852 2 145 7190; E-mail hylan@

                These authors contributed equally to this work.

                Copyright © 2016 The Author(s)

                Cell Death and Disease is an open-access journal published by Nature Publishing Group. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit

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                Cell biology


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