Pulmonary fibrosis is characterized by stiffening of the extracellular matrix. Fibroblasts migrate in the direction of greater stiffness, a phenomenon termed durotaxis. The mechanically guided fibroblast migration could be a crucial step in the progression of lung fibrosis. In this study, we found primary human lung fibroblasts sense increasing matrix stiffness with a change of mitochondrial dynamics in favor of mitochondrial fission and increased production of ATP. Mitochondria polarize in the direction of a physiologically relevant stiffness gradient, with conspicuous localization to the leading edge, primarily lamellipodia and filopodia, of migrating lung fibroblasts. Matrix stiffness–regulated mitochondrial fission and durotactic lung fibroblast migration are mediated by a dynamin-related protein 1/mitochondrial fission factor–dependent (DRP1/MFF-dependent) pathway. Importantly, we found that the DRP1/MFF pathway is activated in fibrotic lung myofibroblasts in both human IPF and bleomycin-induced mouse lung fibrosis. These findings suggest that energy-producing mitochondria need to be sectioned via fission and repositioned in durotactic lung fibroblasts to meet the higher energy demand. This represents a potentially new mechanism through which mitochondria may contribute to the progression of fibrotic lung diseases. Inhibition of durotactic migration of lung fibroblasts may play an important role in preventing the progression of human idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.


Ting Guo, Chun-sun Jiang, Shan-Zhong Yang, Yi Zhu, Chao He, A. Brent Carter, Veena B. Antony, Hong Peng, Yong Zhou


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