Alveolar epithelial cell (AEC) injury is central to the pathogenesis of pulmonary fibrosis. Epithelial FGF (fibroblast growth factor) signaling is essential for recovery from hyperoxia- and influenzainduced lung injury, and treatment with FGFs is protective in experimental lung injury. The cell types involved in the protective effect of FGFs are not known. We hypothesized that FGF signaling in type II AECs (AEC2s) is critical in bleomycin-induced lung injury and fibrosis. To test this hypothesis, we generated mice with tamoxifeninducible deletion of FGFR1-3 (fibroblast growth factor receptors 1, 2, and 3) in surfactant protein C-positive (SPC1) AEC2s (SPC triple conditional knockout [SPC-TCKO]). In the absence of injury, SPCTCKO mice had fewer AEC2s, decreased Sftpc (surfactant protein C gene) expression, increased alveolar diameter, and increased collagen deposition. After intratracheal bleomycin administration, SPCTCKO mice had increased mortality, lung edema, and BAL total protein, and flow cytometry and immunofluorescence revealed a loss of AEC2s. To reduce mortality of SPC-TCKO mice to less than 50%, a 25-fold dose reduction of bleomycin was required. Surviving bleomycin-injured SPC-TCKO mice had increased collagen deposition, fibrosis, and ACTA2 expression and decreased epithelial gene expression. Inducible inactivation of individual Fgfr2 or Fgfr3 revealed that Fgfr2, but not Fgfr3, was responsible for the increased mortality and lung injury after bleomycin administration. In conclusion, AEC2-specific FGFR2 is critical for survival in response to bleomycin-induced lung injury. These data also suggest that a population of SPC1 AEC2s require FGFR2 signaling for maintenance in the adult lung. Preventing epithelial FGFR inhibition and/or activating FGFRs in alveolar epithelium may therefore represent a novel approach to treating lung injury and reducing fibrosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)608-621
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2020


  • Alveolar epithelial cells
  • Bleomycin
  • Fibroblast growth factor
  • Fibroblast growth factor receptor
  • Lung injury


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