Mesenchymal cells isolated after acute lung injury manifest an enhanced proliferative phenotype

B. Chen, V. Polunovsky, J. White, B. Blazar, R. Nakhleh, J. Jessurun, M. Peterson, P. Bitterman

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After acute lung injury, mesenchymal cells migrate into the alveolar airspace where they proliferate and deposit connective tissue macromolecules. Early in the disease process, inflammatory cell-derived trophic factors modulate these mesenchymal cell functions. However, in those patients who die, even as the inflammatory response abates, the fibroproliferative response continues, resulting in extensive intraalveolar fibrosis. We therefore hypothesized that lung mesenchymal cells obtained from individuals dying with acute alveolar fibrosis would manifest an enhanced proliferative capacity that was independent of persistent exogenous signals. To examine this hypothesis, the in vitro growth properties of mesenchymal cells prepared from patients dying with acute lung injury (n = 3) were analyzed in defined medium and compared with those of mesenchymal cells similarly prepared from patients dying with histologically normal lungs (n = 3). Isolates were characterized as mesenchymal cells by using morphological and immunohistochemical criteria. In accord with the hypothesis, mesenchymal cells isolated from lung-injured patients doubled within 3 d in the complete absence of exogenous peptide growth factors, reaching a saturation density of ∼ 15 × 103 cells / cm2. As expected, lung mesenchymal cells from normal individuals failed to significantly increase in number. Consistent with this proliferative phenotype, the immediate early cell division cycle genes c-fos and c-jun were constitutively expressed in each cell strain prepared from injured lungs, but not in those from control lungs. The observed proliferative phenotype was stable through the fifth subcultivation of the cells. Despite these proliferative properties, three separate criteria indicated the mesenchymal cells from injured lungs were not transformed: normal karyotype; finite lifespan in vitro (9-10 subcultivations); and inability to disseminate in mice with severe combined immunodeficiency. These data support the hypothesis that mesenchymal cells manifest an enhanced proliferative state after acute lung injury.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1778-1785
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Clinical Investigation
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1992


  • Fibroblasts
  • Lung injury
  • Mesenchymal cells
  • Proliferation


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