Fibrosis, the replacement of functional tissue with excessive fibrous tissue, can occur in all the main tissues and organ systems, resulting in various pathological disorders. Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis is a prototype fibrotic disease involving abnormal wound healing in response to multiple sites of ongoing alveolar epithelial injury.
To decipher the role of TNF and TNF-mediated inflammation in the development of fibrosis, we have utilized the bleomycin-induced animal model of Pulmonary Fibrosis and a series of genetically modified mice lacking components of TNF signaling. Transmembrane TNF expression is shown to be sufficient to elicit an inflammatory response, but inadequate for the transition to the fibrotic phase of the disease. Soluble TNF expression is shown to be crucial for lymphocyte recruitment, a prerequisite for TGF-b1 expression and the development of fibrotic lesions. Moreover, through a series of bone marrow transfers, the necessary TNF expression is shown to originate from the non-hematopoietic compartment further localized in apoptosing epithelial cells.
These results suggest a primary detrimental role of soluble TNF in the pathologic cascade, separating it from the beneficial role of transmembrane TNF, and indicate the importance of assessing the efficacy of soluble TNF antagonists in the treatment of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis.