Substrate stiffness influences TGF-β1-induced differentiation of bronchial fibroblasts into myofibroblasts in airway remodeling

Yanling Shi, Yuhui Dong, Yiyuan Duan, Xuemei Jiang, Cheng Chen, Linhong Deng
Molecular Medicine Reports 2013, 7 (2): 419-24
Chronic inflammation and remodeling of the bronchial wall are basic hallmarks of asthma. During the process of bronchial wall remodeling, inflammatory factors, such as transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1), are known to induce the differentiation of fibroblasts into myofibroblasts, which leads to excessive synthesis and secretion of extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins, thus thickening and stiffening the basement membrane. However, it has not been thoroughly studied whether or not substrate stiffening affects the TGF-β1‑induced myofibroblast differentiation. In the present study, the influence of substrate stiffness on the process of bronchial fibroblast differentiation into myofibroblasts in the presence of TGF-β1 was investigated. To address this question, we synthesized polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) substrates with varying degrees of stiffness (Young's modulus of 1, 10 and 50 kPa, respectively). We cultured bronchial fibroblasts on the substrates of varying stiffness in media containing TGF-β1 (10 ng/ml) to stimulate the differentiation of fibroblasts into myofibroblasts. Myofibroblast differentiation was examined using semi-quantitative RT-PCR for the expression of α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) mRNA and collagen I mRNA, the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay method was used to assess the expression of collagen I protein and western blotting to assess the expression of α-SMA protein. The optical magnetic twisting cytometry (OMTC) method was used for the changing of cell mechanical properties. Our findings suggest that when fibroblasts were incubated with TGF-β1 (10 ng/ml) on substrate of varying stiffness, the differentiation of fibroblasts into myofibroblasts was enhanced by increasing substrate stiffness. Compared with those cultured on substrate with Young's modulus of 1 kPa, the mRNA and protein expression of collagen I and α-SMA of fibroblasts cultured on substrates with Young's modulus of 10 and 50 kPa were increased. Furthermore, with the increase of substrate stiffness, the cell stiffness and contractility were also increased, which also indicated further aggravation of asthma. This finding may help better understand the underlying mechanisms of hyperplasia of myofibroblasts in asthma, which has a marked significance in the therapy of asthma.

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