Myofibroblasts from diverse pathologic settings are heterogeneous in their content of actin isoforms and intermediate filament proteins


We examined by immunofluorescence the distribution of vimentin, desmin, α-smooth muscle actin and α-sarcomeric actin in normal human soft tissues and in pathologic tissues containing myofibroblasts, including normally healing granulation tissue, hypertrophic scar, and fibromatosis. The pattern of actin isoforms was also documented biochemically by two-dimensional gel electrophoresis. Fibroblastic and/or myofibroblastic cells in each setting always expressed vimentin and never α-sarcomeric actin. Moreover, these cells showed an heterogeneous cytoskeletal composition which defined four phenotypes: (a) cells expressing only vimentin; (b) cells expressing vimentin, α-smooth muscle actin and desmin; (c) cells expressing vimentin and α-smooth muscle actin; and (d) cells expressing vimentin and desmin. Given this, two groups of lesions are distinguished: the first contains only vimentin cells and consists of normally healing granulation tissue, eschars and normally healed scars; the second contains vimentin cells admixed with variable proportions of vimentin, α-smooth muscle actin and desmin, vimentin and α-smooth muscle actin, and vimentin and desmin cells and consists of hypertrophic scars and fibromatoses. Immunogold electron microscopy showed that α-smooth muscle actin was present in a proportion of cells with ultrastructural features of myofibroblasts. Our findings suggest that contrary to myofibroblasts of normally healing granulation tissue and normally healed scars, myofibroblasts of pathologic conditions characterized by chronic retraction express always immunochemical features indicative of smooth muscle differentiation.

Publication Title

Laboratory Investigation

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