Destructive parenchymal lung diseases such as emphysema and pulmonary fibrosis are largely irreversible, and strategies for eliciting alveolar repair and regeneration are an important priority. This application addresses mechanisms which guide alveolar fibroblasts to optimal locations for generation of a coherent, mechanically integrated elastic and collagen fiber network. Learning how signaling platforms integrate and condition signals from the extracellular environment during alveolar development is critical for modifying how fibroblasts migrate and transition to myofibroblasts (MF). When their neuropilin 1 (Nrp1) was depleted, pulmonary MF did not diminish but the surrounding alveolar ducts were enlarged. Preliminary studies also showed that collagen enhanced Ras-related C3 botulinum toxin substrate-1 (Rac1) activation, which is required for cell polarization and migration. Hypothesis: Nrp1 and discoidin domain receptor-2 (DDR2) modify PDGFR?-mediated signaling through Rac1 to direct lung fibroblast (LF) migration and extracellular matrix (ECM) remodeling, during alveolar septation. Components of these signaling pathways assemble in membrane lipid rafts (MLR) where integrins link the ECM to the cellular actin cytoskeleton at focal adhesions.
In Aim 1, MF from the lungs of mice bearing deletions of PDGFR? or Nrp1 will be used to dissect the signaling pathways which transmit information from collagen, ?1-integrins, and DDR2 to activate Rac1 and thereby regulate the formation of lamellipodia. These studies will (a) examine how Nrp1-deletion alters PDGFR?- targeted protein kinases, adapter proteins and guanine-nucleotide exchange factors, (b) evaluate how PDGF-A interacts with Nrp1, and (c) how Nrp1 regulates endosomal trafficking of PDGFR?.
Aim 2 will examine defects in collagen fibers of PDGFR?, Nrp1, or DDR2-deleted mice and how these defects impact the positioning of MF and collagen fibers. These studies will show how DDR2 and integrin ?2?1 determine the way fibroblasts respond to fibrillar collagen-1, including their polarization of lamellipodia and membrane type-1 matrix metalloproteinase (MT1-MMP) during migration. They will also determine how the rigidity of collagen fibers alters Rac1-activation, focal adhesion formation, and cell migration.
Aim 3 will investigate how PDGFR? and Nrp1 interact with DDR2 and, via Rac1, assemble podosomes, where membrane type-1 matrix metalloprotease (MT1-MMP) targets collagen fibers for degradation to direct the migration and positioning of MF. These studies will explore how podosomes and Rac1 enable fibroblasts to probe and remodel collagen fibers along the axis extending into the distal alveolar septum. In all three aims the collagen composition and the rigidity of the cellular environment will be manipulated to define how they influence cell polarity (of lamellipodia and podosomes), Rac1 activation, migration towards stiffer substrates (durotaxis), and the remodeling of collagen fibers. Learning how MLR and their protein constituents integrate and condition signals from the extracellular environment is critical to modifying how fibroblasts migrate and transition to MF. This process is fundamental to understanding these diseases and how they may be remediated through alveolar regeneration. Because currently available treatments do not arrest or reverse alveolar loss, developing strategies for alveolar regeneration could greatly improve clinical outcomes for pulmonary emphysema, which is prevalent in the American veteran population.

Public Health Relevance

Although the prevalence of smoking has declined, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and its attendant pathological pulmonary abnormality, emphysema, are common and disproportionately contribute to hospitalizations and health care costs among veterans. Because most of the currently available therapies only address symptoms, identification of strategies that limit disease progression remains an important goal. This proposal will investigate mechanisms that regulate the movement and positioning of structural cells which form the lung air sacs. These cells are required to form the gas-exchange region of the developing lung and for regenerating damaged air sacs. These studies are also relevant to vascular diseases including stroke, diabetes, and chronic renal insufficiency, which are also common among veterans.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Veterans Affairs (VA)
Non-HHS Research Projects (I01)
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Iowa City VA Medical Center
Iowa City
United States
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McGowan, Stephen (2017) Understanding the developmental pathways pulmonary fibroblasts may follow during alveolar regeneration. Cell Tissue Res 367:707-719
McGowan, Stephen E; McCoy, Diann M (2017) Glucocorticoids Retain Bipotent Fibroblast Progenitors during Alveolar Septation in Mice. Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol 57:111-120
McGowan, Stephen E; McCoy, Diann M (2017) Platelet-derived growth factor receptor-? and Ras-related C3 botulinum toxin substrate-1 regulate mechano-responsiveness of lung fibroblasts. Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol 313:L1174-L1187
McGowan, Stephen E; McCoy, Diann M (2015) Fibroblast growth factor signaling in myofibroblasts differs from lipofibroblasts during alveolar septation in mice. Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol 309:L463-74
McGowan, Stephen E (2014) Paracrine cellular and extracellular matrix interactions with mesenchymal progenitors during pulmonary alveolar septation. Birth Defects Res A Clin Mol Teratol 100:227-39
Ahlbrecht, Katrin; McGowan, Stephen E (2014) In search of the elusive lipofibroblast in human lungs. Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol 307:L605-8
McGowan, Stephen E; McCoy, Diann M (2014) Regulation of fibroblast lipid storage and myofibroblast phenotypes during alveolar septation in mice. Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol 307:L618-31
McGowan, Stephen E; McCoy, Diann M (2013) Platelet-derived growth factor-A regulates lung fibroblast S-phase entry through p27(kip1) and FoxO3a. Respir Res 14:68
McGowan, Stephen E; McCoy, Diann M (2013) Platelet-derived growth factor-A and sonic hedgehog signaling direct lung fibroblast precursors during alveolar septal formation. Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol 305:L229-39
McGowan, Stephen E; McCoy, Diann M (2011) Fibroblasts expressing PDGF-receptor-alpha diminish during alveolar septal thinning in mice. Pediatr Res 70:44-9