Research ArticleIdiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis

TLR9 Differentiates Rapidly from Slowly Progressing Forms of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis

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Science Translational Medicine  10 Nov 2010:
Vol. 2, Issue 57, pp. 57ra82
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3001510

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Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is characterized by diffuse alveolar damage and severe fibrosis, resulting in a steady worsening of lung function and gas exchange. Because idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a generally progressive disorder with highly heterogeneous disease progression, we classified affected patients as either rapid or slow progressors over the first year of follow-up and then identified differences between the two groups to investigate the mechanism governing rapid progression. Previous work from our laboratory has demonstrated that Toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9), a pathogen recognition receptor that recognizes unmethylated CpG motifs in bacterial and viral DNA, promotes myofibroblast differentiation in lung fibroblasts cultured from biopsies of patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Therefore, we hypothesized that TLR9 functions as both a sensor of pathogenic molecules and a profibrotic signal in rapidly progressive idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Indeed, TLR9 was present at higher concentrations in surgical lung biopsies from rapidly progressive patients than in tissue from slowly progressing patients. Moreover, fibroblasts from rapid progressors were more responsive to the TLR9 agonist, CpG DNA, than were fibroblasts from slowly progressing patients. Using a humanized severe combined immunodeficient mouse, we then demonstrated increased fibrosis in murine lungs receiving human lung fibroblasts from rapid progressors compared with mice receiving fibroblasts from slowly progressing patients. This fibrosis was exacerbated by intranasal CpG challenges. Furthermore, CpG induced the differentiation of blood monocytes into fibrocytes and the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition of A549 lung epithelial cells. These data suggest that TLR9 may drive the pathogenesis of rapidly progressive idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and may serve as a potential indicator for this subset of the disease.


  • These authors contributed equally to this work.

  • Citation: G. Trujillo, A. Meneghin, K. R. Flaherty, L. M. Sholl, J. L. Myers, E. A. Kazerooni, B. H. Gross, S. R. Oak, A. L. Coelho, H. Evanoff, E. Day, G. B. Toews, A. D. Joshi, M. A. Schaller, B. Waters, G. Jarai, J. Westwick, S. L. Kunkel, F. J. Martinez, C. M. Hogaboam, TLR9 Differentiates Rapidly from Slowly Progressing Forms of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis Sci. Transl. Med. 2, 57ra83 (2010).

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