Excessive collagen deposition plays a critical role in the development of fibrosis, and early or active fibrosis may be more susceptible to therapeutic intervention than later stages of scarring. However, at present there is no simple method for assessing the collagen-synthesizing and secreting activity of fibroblasts in human tissues. Type I procollagen carboxyterminal domains are proteolytically removed during collagen secretion. Thus, antibodies to these domains should stain fibroblasts synthesizing type I collagen but not extracellular collagen fibrils which could mask the signal from the cells. We developed and characterized a monoclonal antibody (Anti-pC) specific for the carboxyterminal propeptide of type I procollagen. To determine the relationship between Anti-pC staining and collagen synthesis, we stained embryonic and adult chicken tendon. Embryonic chick tendon fibroblasts actively synthesizing type I collagen stained heavily with Anti-pC, while quiescent adult tendon fibroblasts did not stain with Anti-pC. Wounded adult tendons developed fibroblasts that stained with Anti-pC at the wound site. Thus, Anti-pC specifically visualized fibroblasts actively synthesizing collagen. Lung biopsies from patients with fibrotic lung disease were stained with Anti-pC. Interstitial and intraalveolar fibroblasts in biopsies from patients with active fibrosis stained intensely with Anti-pC, while normal human lung was unstained. The absence of staining in normal lung supports the hypothesis that fibrosis is associated with an altered collagen-synthesizing phenotype of tissue fibroblasts. Anti-pC may provide a useful clinical tool for assessing fibrogenic activity at sites of tissue injury.
J A McDonald, T J Broekelmann, M L Matheke, E Crouch, M Koo, C Kuhn 3rd