BACKGROUND--In fibrotic diseases such as pulmonary fibrosis there is evidence suggesting enhanced synthesis and degradation of lung connective tissue components, including collagen. It has therefore been hypothesised that products of collagen degradation may have a role in the promotion of collagen deposition. In support of this hypothesis, it has recently been shown that intravenous injection of lung collagen degradation products in experimental animals stimulated collagen synthesis leading to increased collagen deposition and diffuse interstitial lung disease. METHODS--Rabbit and human fibroblast cultures from lung and skin were used as an in vitro model to study the responses of these cells to rabbit collagen degradation products. The effects of an acute exposure to collagen degradation products on synthesis of collagen and noncollagenous protein have been studied in confluent cultures by [3H]-proline incorporation. The effects of collagen degradation products on fibroblast proliferation and production of genetic types of collagen have also been investigated. RESULTS--The acute exposure of rabbit lung fibroblast cultures to collagen degradation products significantly increased collagen synthesis without affecting non-collagenous protein synthesis. This effect was dose related, specific for lung fibroblasts, and species specific. Collagen degradation products altered the rate of synthesis of genetic types of collagen with a consequent decrease of type III/I+III collagen ratio (0.26 (0.04) treated with collagen degradation products; 0.45 (0.02) controls). These effects occurred without the intervention of serum factors. In addition, collagen degradation products neither affected fibroblast proliferation nor selected specific clones emphasising one type of collagen. CONCLUSIONS--These results suggest that collagen degradation products can influence lung collagen metabolism by stimulating collagen synthesis. The regulation of collagen mass by collagen degradation products may be of importance in lung collagen homeostasis in vivo.
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