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What's Behind Scarring, Inflammation

Study reveals role of fibroblasts in the process

FRIDAY, Oct. 17, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Certain kinds of fibroblasts, the cells that form basic tissue structures, play a major role in scar formation, fat accumulation and inflammation, says a University of Rochester Medical Center study in the October issue of the American Journal of Pathology.

The finding offers new information about the role of fibroblasts, all of which were previously assumed to be little more than scaffolding on which more important cells would climb. This new information may help explain why some people suffer from unexplained internal scarring around their vital organs, which can result in serious diseases of the eyes, heart, lungs, intestines or kidneys.

The study may also help doctors better understand why some accident victims and surgical patients scar easily and take longer to heal than others. The findings could lead the way to new drugs that stop unhealthy scars or fatty tissue from developing.

"This is the first clear demonstration that certain kinds of human fibroblasts can develop into scar-type or fat-type cells," lead author Richard P. Phipps, professor of environmental medicine, microbiology and immunology, oncology and pediatrics, says in a prepared statement.

"In fact, our results show that some fibroblasts may prove to be a useful diagnostic tool by providing clues to the severity of a disease or who might be prone to abnormal wound healing, for example," Phipps says.

In laboratory experiments with fibroblasts from human uterine and eye tissue, Phipps and his team investigated subsets of fibroblasts to determine whether they were capable of becoming specialized cells called myofibroblasts or lipofibroblasts.

Normally inconspicuous in healthy tissue, myofibroblasts become active after an injury or trauma. When they're uncontrolled, myofibroblasts result in fibrosis of the liver, kidneys, lungs and heart. Lipofibroblasts develop into fat cells and lead to thyroid eye disease and harmful accumulation of fatty tissue in the liver, spleen and bone marrow.

In this study, Phipps and his team discovered surface markers that identify which fibroblasts have the potential to change into myofibroblasts or lipofibroblasts. They now plan to more closely investigate the pathways for this cell transformation.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about fibroblasts.

SOURCE: University of Rochester, news release, October 2003
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