Characterization of the Early Cellular Mechanisms Promoting Myocardial Fibrosis
Myocardial fibrosis is a common pathological finding in patients with cardiovascular disease and is believed to be a major contributing factor in the development of end stage organ failure. Early events that promote the development of myocardial fibrosis are not well understood. Rapid cellular infiltration into the cardiac tissue is evident in fibrosis but the infiltrating populations and their functions have yet to be completely elucidated. The aim of this thesis was to characterize the phenotype and function of this cellular population in a model of hypertension mediated myocardial fibrosis. Furthermore, we intended to explore therapies that target this population and ameliorate fibrosis. We characterized a novel population of infiltrating cells as circulating fibroblast progenitor cells, termed fibrocytes. We determined that this population does not appear to specifically migrate in response to previously established chemotactic signals (CCL2 or CXCL12). We found that fibrocytes respond to fibrogenic stimuli (AngII and CTGF) by increasing the expression of collagen and CTGF, an early molecular mediator of fibrosis, while also promoting fibrocyte differentiation. Using an anti-hypertension treatment, we found that hypertension as a physiologic stimulus likely promotes cellular infiltration and corresponding fibrosis. We also established that treatment with activated protein C (aPC) conferred protection against the development of myocardial fibrosis, potentially by inhibiting fibrocyte recruitment and/or activation. Lastly, to assess fibrocyte involvement in the progression of human myocardial fibrosis we assessed fibrocytes in levels in the circulation of patients with ischemic heart disease compared to healthy controls. We found that patients with ischemic heart disease had an increase of circulating cells that have the potential to become fibrocytes compared to healthy controls and therefore likely contribute to myocardial fibrosis. From this data, we propose that fibrocytes are a key effector cell that directly promotes pathologic fibrosis within the injured myocardium. Understanding their migration and function is therefore essential to the development of future therapies targeting this cell type to inhibit their role in fibrosis.