DURHAM, N.C. — Tracking individual cells within the lung as they move around and multiply has given Duke University researchers new insights into the causes of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) a disease which can only be treated now by lung transplantation.
IPF fills the delicate gas exchange region of the lung with scar tissue, progressively restricting breathing. The Duke University Medical Center researchers have discovered that some commonly held ideas about the origins of the scar-forming (fibrotic) cells are oversimplified, if not wrong.
“We are the first to show that pericytes, a population of cells previously described to play a role in the development of fibrosis in other organs, are present in fibrotic lung tissue,” said Christina Barkauskas, M.D., a pulmonary fellow in the Duke Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine.
The team found that pericytes move from blood vessels into fibrotic regions, and were in the damaged lungs of both humans and mice. In mice, they also showed that the epithelial cells, which make up the lacy sacs called alveoli, could divide and repair the damage in the gas-exchange location, but these cells were not the source of scarring.
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