Scientists have found that it is the structure of collagen, rather than the amount, that leads to the devastating condition of lung fibrosis, according to a report published online on July 3, 2018 in the journal eLife. The open-access article is titled “Nanoscale Dysregulation of Collagen Structure-Function Disrupts Mechano-Homeostasis and Mediates Pulmonary Fibrosis.” The study provides the first evidence in humans that altered collagen structure affects tissue stiffness during progression of lung fibrosis and identifies a potential new target for drugs to prevent the condition. It is widely thought that fibrosis occurs when components that hold together a tissue's architecture [called the extracellular matrix (ECM)] build up in the tissue and lead to tissue stiffness. But recently evidence has suggested that this increased stiffness causes the build-up of yet more ECM components, resulting in a cycle that causes more scar tissue. "We knew that stiffness is an important factor in the build-up of scar tissue in the lung," explains lead author Dr. Mark Jones, National Institute for Health Research (NICR) Clinical Lecturer in Respiratory Medicine at the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre and the University of Southampton, UK. "But we didn't understand what specifically causes increased stiffness in diseased human tissue. Given that excessive build-up of collagen is considered a hallmark of fibrosis, we wanted to see whether this molecule has a role in tissue stiffness." The researches started by looking at the biological and mechanical features of lung tissue from people with lung fibrosis and compared this to healthy lung tissue. They found that the lung fibrosis samples were much stiffer than those from healthy people but, surprisingly, had similar levels of collagen.
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