Microengineered 3D pulmonary interstitial mimetics highlight a critical role for matrix degradation in myofibroblast differentiation

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Science Advances  09 Sep 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 37, eabb5069
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abb5069


Fibrosis, characterized by aberrant tissue scarring from activated myofibroblasts, is often untreatable. Although the extracellular matrix becomes increasingly stiff and fibrous during disease progression, how these physical cues affect myofibroblast differentiation in 3D is poorly understood. Here, we describe a multicomponent hydrogel that recapitulates the 3D fibrous structure of interstitial tissue regions where idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) initiates. In contrast to findings on 2D hydrogels, myofibroblast differentiation in 3D was inversely correlated with hydrogel stiffness but positively correlated with matrix fibers. Using a multistep bioinformatics analysis of IPF patient transcriptomes and in vitro pharmacologic screening, we identify matrix metalloproteinase activity to be essential for 3D but not 2D myofibroblast differentiation. Given our observation that compliant degradable 3D matrices amply support fibrogenesis, these studies demonstrate a departure from the established relationship between stiffness and myofibroblast differentiation in 2D, and provide a new 3D model for studying fibrosis and identifying antifibrotic therapeutics.

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