Monocyte and macrophage derived myofibroblasts: Is it fate? A review of the current evidence
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Since the discovery of the myofibroblast over 50 years ago, much has been learned about its role in wound healing and fibrosis. Its origin, however, remains controversial, with a number of progenitor cells being proposed. Macrophage-myofibroblast transition (MMT) is a recent term coined in 2014 that describes the mechanism through which macrophages, derived from circulating monocytes originating in the bone marrow, transformed into myofibroblasts and contributed to kidney fibrosis. Over the past years, several studies have confirmed the existence of MMT in various systems, suggesting that MMT could potentially occur in all fibrotic conditions and constitute a reasonable therapeutic target to prevent progressive fibrotic disease. In this perspective, we examined recent evidence supporting the notion of MMT in both human disease and experimental models across organ systems. Mechanistic insight from these studies and information from in vitro studies is provided. The findings substantiating plausible MMT showcased the co-expression of macrophage and myofibroblast markers, including CD68 or F4/80 (macrophage) and α-SMA (myofibroblast), in fibroblast-like cells. Furthermore, fate-mapping experiments in murine models exhibiting myeloid-derived myofibroblasts in the tissue further provide direct evidence for MMT. Additionally, we provide some evidence from single cell RNA sequencing experiments confirmed by fluorescent in situ hybridisation studies, showing monocyte/macrophage and myofibroblast markers co-expressed in lung tissue from patients with fibrotic lung disease. In conclusion, MMT is likely a significant contributor to myofibroblast formation in wound healing and fibrotic disease across organ systems. Circulating precursors including monocytes and the molecular mechanisms governing MMT could constitute valid targets and provide insight for the development of novel antifibrotic therapies; however, further understanding of these processes is warranted.
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