Rong Zhang, Ying Pan, Vito Fanelli, Sulong Wu, Alice Aili Luo, Diana Islam, Bing Han, Pu Mao, Mirna Ghazarian, Wenmei Zeng, Peter M. Spieth, Dingyan Wang, Julie Khang, Hongyin Mo, Xiaoqing Liu, Stefan Uhlig, Mingyao Liu, John Laffey, Arthur S. Slutsky, Yimin Li, and Haibo Zhang  Am. J. Resp. Crit. Care Med. Aug 1, 2015, vol. 192, no. 3: 315-323

Rationale: Lung-protective ventilatory strategies have been widely used in patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), but the ARDS mortality rate remains unacceptably high and there is no proven pharmacologic therapy.

Objectives: Mechanical ventilation can induce oxidative stress and lung fibrosis, which may contribute to high dependency on ventilator support and increased ARDS mortality. We hypothesized that the novel cytokine, midkine (MK), which can be up-regulated in oxidative stress, plays a key role in the pathogenesis of ARDS-associated lung fibrosis.

Methods: Blood samples were collected from 17 patients with ARDS and 10 healthy donors. Human lung epithelial cells were challenged with hydrogen chloride followed by mechanical stretch for 72 hours. Wild-type and MK gene–deficient (MK−/−) mice received two-hit injury of acid aspiration and mechanical ventilation, and were monitored for 14 days.

Measurements and Main Results: Plasma concentrations of MK were higher in patients with ARDS than in healthy volunteers. Exposure to mechanical stretch of lung epithelial cells led to an epithelial–mesenchymal transition profile associated with increased expression of angiotensin-converting enzyme, which was attenuated by silencing MK, its receptor Notch2, or NADP reduced oxidase 1. An increase in collagen deposition and hydroxyproline level and a decrease in lung tissue compliance seen in wild-type mice were largely attenuated in MK−/− mice.

Conclusions: Mechanical stretch can induce an epithelial–mesenchymal transition phenotype mediated by the MK–Notch2–angiotensin-converting enzyme signaling pathway, contributing to lung remodeling. The MK pathway is a potential therapeutic target in the context of ARDS-associated lung fibrosis.

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