Fibroblast growth factor (FGF) signaling has been implicated in the pathogenesis of pulmonary fibrosis. Mice lacking FGF2 have increased mortality and impaired epithelial recovery after bleomycin exposure, supporting a protective or reparative function following lung injury. To determine whether FGF2 overexpression reduces bleomycin-induced injury, we developed an inducible genetic system to express FGF2 in type II pneumocytes. Double-transgenic (DTG) mice with doxycycline-inducible overexpression of human FGF2 (SPC-rtTA;TRE-hFGF2) or single-transgenic controls were administered intratracheal bleomycin and fed doxycycline chow, starting at either day 0 or day 7. In addition, wild-type mice received intratracheal or intravenous recombinant FGF2, starting at the time of bleomycin treatment. Compared to controls, doxycycline-induced DTG mice had decreased pulmonary fibrosis 21 days after bleomycin, as assessed by gene expression and histology. This beneficial effect was seen when FGF2 overexpression was induced at day 0 or day 7 after bleomycin. FGF2 overexpression did not alter epithelial gene expression, bronchoalveolar lavage cellularity or total protein. In vitro studies using primary mouse and human lung fibroblasts showed that FGF2 strongly inhibited baseline and TGFβ1-induced expression of alpha smooth muscle actin (αSMA), collagen, and connective tissue growth factor. While FGF2 did not suppress phosphorylation of Smad2 or Smad-dependent gene expression, FGF2 inhibited TGFβ1-induced stress fiber formation and serum response factor-dependent gene expression. FGF2 inhibition of stress fiber formation and αSMA requires FGF receptor 1 (FGFR1) and downstream MEK/ERK, but not AKT signaling. In summary, overexpression of FGF2 protects against bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis in vivo and reverses TGFβ1-induced collagen and αSMA expression and stress fiber formation in lung fibroblasts in vitro, without affecting either inflammation or epithelial gene expression. Our results suggest that in the lung, FGF2 is antifibrotic in part through decreased collagen expression and fibroblast to myofibroblast differentiation.
- alpha smooth muscle actin
- fibroblast growth factor
- pulmonary fibrosis
- transforming growth factor beta