Enhanced adhesive signaling including activation of the focal adhesion kinase (FAK) is a hallmark of fibroblasts from lung fibrosis patients, and FAK has been therefore hypothesized to be a key mediator of this disease. This study was undertaken to characterize the contribution of FAK to the development of pulmonary fibrosis both in vivo and in vitro.
FAK expression and activity were analyzed in lung tissue samples from lung fibrosis patients by immunohistochemistry. Mice orally treated with the FAK inhibitor, PF-562,271, or with siRNA-mediated silencing of FAK, were exposed to intratracheally instilled bleomycin to induce lung fibrosis, and the lungs were harvested for histological and biochemical analysis. Using endothelin-1 (ET-1) as stimulus, cell adhesion and contraction, as well as profibrotic gene expression were studied in fibroblasts isolated from wild type and FAK-deficient mouse embryos. ET-1-mediated FAK activation and gene expression were studied in primary mouse lung fibroblasts, as well as in wild type and integrin β1-deficient fibroblasts.
Increased FAK expression and activity are upregulated in fibroblast foci and remodeled vessels in lung fibrosis patients. Pharmacological or siRNA-mediated targeting of FAK resulted in marked abrogation of bleomycin-induced lung fibrosis. Loss of FAK impaired the acquisition of a profibrotic phenotype in response to ET-1. Profibrotic gene expression leading to myofibroblast differentiation required cell adhesion, and was driven by Jun N-terminal kinase activation through integrin β1/FAK signaling.
These results implicate FAK as a central mediator of fibrogenesis, and highlight this kinase as a potential therapeutic target in fibrotic diseases.