Pulmonary fibrosis (PF) is a clinical syndrome that represents the end-stage of chronic parenchymal lung diseases. Dysfunctional repair of the distal lung epithelium has been hypothesized as central to PF pathogenesis, but the mechanisms governing epithelial repair following injury remain incompletely understood. In order to comprehensively profile the cell types and gene expression programs driving PF, we performed single-cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-seq) of peripheral tissue from PF and control lungs and identified dramatic changes in cell types, states, and expression programs in PF lung epithelium including a previously undescribed KRT5-/KRT17+ ?distal basal cell? (DBC) population that produces pathologic extracellular matrix. Independently, using whole-exome sequencing for genetic discovery in families with pulmonary fibrosis (Familial Interstitial Pneumonia, FIP), we identified rare mutations in an orphan G-protein coupled receptor (GPR87) that segregate with disease, implicating GPR87 as a novel FIP risk gene. Our preliminary data indicate that GPR87 gene expression is dramatically increased in lung tissue from patients with sporadic cases of IPF, and localizes specifically to these newly described pathologic ECM-producing DBCs. In mice, as in humans, Gpr87 expression was low in the peripheral lung; however, expression increases substantially after following bleomycin injury, where it localized to distal basal cells. We generated mice expressing an FIP- associated mutant form of Gpr87 using a CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing strategy and found that mice carrying a single-copy of the mutation (Gpr87mut/wt) had increased lung fibrosis compared to control mice following a single-dose bleomycin. Unchallenged mice carrying biallelic mutations (Gpr87mut/mut) develop spontaneous airway epithelial remodeling and striking atypical hyperplasia in vivo. Consistent with these findings, culture of Gpr87mut/mut mouse tracheal epithelial cells (MTECs) in air-liquid interface (ALI) and 3D organoid systems resulted in aberrant epithelial differentiation. Together, our preliminary data implicate DBCs in PF pathogenesis and suggest that GPR87 regulates the fate and function of these cells. Our hypothesis is that GPR87 regulates proliferation and differentiation of distal basal cells, which are required for efficient repair of alveolar epithelium after severe or repetitive injury.
Our specific aims are: 1) Determine the role of Gpr87- expressing distal basal cells in promoting lung fibrosis. 2) Identify mechanisms regulating distal basal cell fate and function in severe and chronic alveolar injury. 3) Investigate GPR87-dependent regulation of basal cell function and differentiation. In studies proposed below, we will use innovative transgenic mouse, organoid and inducible pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-based models to investigate the mechanisms through which GPR87 contributes to fibrotic susceptibility and adaptive versus pathologic lung epithelial repair.

Public Health Relevance

Using single-cell RNA-sequencing to analyze the lungs of patients with pulmonary fibrosis, we have recently identified a novel distal basal cell population with profibrotic features in the lungs of patients with pulmonary fibrosis. Independent work in our group studying families with pulmonary fibrosis has identified mutations in an orphan receptor (GPR87) as a new PF risk gene; remarkably, and our preliminary data suggest GPR87 is predominantly expressed in these pathologic distal basal cells and may regulate their function. Utilizing innovative transgenic mouse, organoid and inducible pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-based models, we will investigate the mechanisms through which GPR87 contributes to fibrotic susceptibility and adaptive versus pathologic lung epithelial repair.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
Research Project (R01)
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Lung Injury, Repair, and Remodeling Study Section (LIRR)
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Craig, Matt
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Vanderbilt University Medical Center
United States
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