MicroRNAs (miRs) are known to limit gene expression at the post-transcriptional level and have important roles in the pathogenesis of various conditions, including acute lung injury (ALI) and fibrotic diseases such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). In this study, we found increased levels of miR-34 at times of fibrosis resolution following injury, in myofibroblasts from Bleomycin-treated mouse lungs, which correlates with susceptibility to cell death induced by immune cells. On the contrary, a substantial downregulation of miR-34 was detected at stages of evolution, when fibroblasts resist cell death. Concomitantly, we found an inverse correlation between miR-34 levels with that of the survival molecule FLICE-like inhibitory protein (FLIP) in lung myofibroblasts from humans with IPF and the experimental model. Forced upregulation of miR-34 with miR-34 mimic in human IPF fibrotic-lung myofibroblasts led to decreased cell survival through downregulation of FLIP. Using chimeric miR-34 knock-out (KO)-C57BL/6 mice with miR34KO myofibroblasts but wild-type (WT) hematopoietic cells, we found, in contrast to WT mice, increased and persistent FLIP levels with a more severe fibrosis and with no signs of resolution as detected in pathology and collagen accumulation. Moreover, a mimic of miR-34a decreased FLIP expression and susceptibility to cell death was regained in miR-34KO fibroblasts. Through this study, we show for the first time an inverse correlation between miR-34a and FLIP expression in myofibroblasts, which affects survival, and accumulation in lung fibrosis. Reprogramming fibrotic-lung myofibroblasts to regain susceptibility to cell-death by specifically increasing their miR34a and downregulating FLIP, may be a useful strategy, enabling tissue regeneration following lung injury.
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