Normal ex vivo mesenchymal stem cell function combined with abnormal immune profiles sets the stage for informative cell therapy trials in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis patients

Elena Atanasova, Dragana Milosevic, Svetlana Bornschlegl, Karen P. Krucker, Eapen K. Jacob, Eva M. Carmona Porquera, Dagny K. Anderson, Ashley M. Egan, Andrew H. Limper, Allan B. Dietz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a chronic, progressive pulmonary disease characterized by aberrant tissue remodeling, formation of scar tissue within the lungs and continuous loss of lung function. The areas of fibrosis seen in lungs of IPF patients share many features with normal aging lung including cellular senescence. The contribution of the immune system to the etiology of IPF remains poorly understood. Evidence obtained from animal models and human studies suggests that innate and adaptive immune processes can orchestrate existing fibrotic responses. Currently, there is only modest effective pharmacotherapy for IPF. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs)-based therapies have emerged as a potential option treatment of IPF. This study characterizes the functionality of autologous MSCs for use as an IPF therapy and presents an attempt to determine whether the disease occurring in the lungs is associated with an alterated immune system. Methods: Comprehensive characterization of autologous adipose-derived MSCs (aMSCs) from 5 IPF patient and 5 age- and gender-matched healthy controls (HC) was done using flow cytometry, PCR (ddPCR), multiplex Luminex xMAP technology, confocal microscopy self-renewal capacity and osteogenic differentiation. Additionally, multi-parameter quantitative flow cytometry of unmanipulated whole blood of 15 IPF patients and 87 (30 age- and gender-matched) HC was used to analyze 110 peripheral phenotypes to determine disease-associated changes in the immune system. Results: There are no differences between autologous aMSCs from IPF patients and HC in their stem cell properties, self-renewal capacity, osteogenic differentiation, secretome content, cell cycle inhibitor marker levels and mitochondrial health. IPF patients had altered peripheral blood immunophenotype including reduced B cells subsets, increased T cell subsets and increased granulocytes demonstrating disease-associated alterations in the immune system. Conclusions: Our results indicate that there are no differences in aMSC properties from IPF patients and HC, suggesting that autologous aMSCs may be an acceptable option for IPF therapy. The altered immune system of IPF patients may be a valuable biomarker for disease burden and monitoring therapeutic response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number45
JournalStem Cell Research and Therapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
  • Immunology
  • Mesenchymal stem cells
  • Therapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)
  • Cell Biology


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