Tissue remodeling/fibrosis is a major feature of all fibrotic diseases, including idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). It is underpinned by accumulating extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins. Fibulin-1c (Fbln1c) is a matricellular ECM protein associated with lung fibrosis in both humans and mice, and stabilizes collagen formation. Here we discovered that Fbln1c was increased in the lung tissues of IPF patients and experimental bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis. Fbln1c-deficient (–/–) mice had reduced pulmonary remodeling/fibrosis and improved lung function after bleomycin challenge. Fbln1c interacted with fibronectin, periostin and tenascin-c in collagen deposits following bleomycin challenge. In a novel mechanism of fibrosis Fbln1c bound to latent transforming growth factor (TGF)-β binding protein-1 (LTBP1) to induce TGF-β activation, and mediated downstream Smad3 phosphorylation/signaling. This process increased myofibroblast numbers and collagen deposition. Fbln1 and LTBP1 co-localized in lung tissues from IPF patients. Thus, Fbln1c may be a novel driver of TGF-β-induced fibrosis involving LTBP1 and may be an upstream therapeutic target.
Gang Liu, Marion A. Cooley, Andrew G. Jarnicki, Theo Borghuis, Prema M. Nair, Gavin Tjin, Alan C. Hsu, Tatt Jhong Haw, Michael Fricker, Celeste L. Harrison, Bernadette Jones, Nicole G. Hansbro, Peter A. Wark, Jay C. Horvat, W. Scott Argraves, Brian G. Oliver, Darryl A. Knight, Janette K. Burgess, Philip M. Hansbro