Macrophages as determinants and regulators of systemic sclerosis-related interstitial lung disease

Hsueh-Fen Juan
Jun, 2024
Background: Interstitial lung disease (ILD) is the primary cause of mortality in systemic sclerosis (SSc), an autoimmune disease characterized by tissue fibrosis. SSc-related ILD (SSc-ILD) occurs more frequently in females aged 30-55 years, whereas idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is more prevalent in males aged 60-75 years. SSc-ILD occurs earlier than IPF and progresses rapidly. FCN1, FABP4, and SPP1 macrophages are involved in the pathogenesis of lung fibrosis; SPP1 macrophages demonstrate upregulated expression in both SSc-ILD and IPF. To identify the differences between SSc-ILD and IPF using single-cell analysis, clarify their distinct pathogeneses, and propose directions for prevention and treatment. Methods: We performed single-cell RNA sequencing on NCBI Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO) databases GSE159354 and GSE212109, and analyzed lung tissue samples across healthy controls, IPF, and SSc-ILD. The primary measures were the filtered genes integrated with batch correction and annotated cell types for distinguishing patients with SSc-ILD from healthy controls. We proposed an SSc-ILD pathogenesis using cell-cell interaction inferences, and predicted transcription factors regulating target genes using SCENIC. Drug target prediction of the TF gene was performed using Drug Bank Online. Results: A subset of macrophages activates the MAPK signaling pathway under oxidative stress. Owing to the lack of inhibitory feedback from ANNEXIN and the autoimmune characteristics, this leads to an earlier onset of lung fibrosis compared to IPF. During initial lung injury, fibroblasts begin to activate the IL6 pathway under the influence of SPP1 alveolar macrophages, but IL6 appears unrelated to other inflammatory and immune cells. This may explain why tocilizumab (an anti-IL6-receptor antibody) only preserves lung function in patients with early SSc-ILD. Finally, we identified BCLAF1 and NFE2L2 as influencers of MAPK activation in macrophages. Metformin downregulates NFE2L2 and could serve as a repurposed drug candidate. Conclusions: SPP1 alveolar macrophages play a role in the profibrotic activity of IPF and SSc-ILD. However, SSc-ILD is influenced by autoimmunity and oxidative stress, leading to the continuous activation of MAPK in macrophages. This may result in an earlier onset of lung fibrosis than in IPF. Such differences could serve as potential research directions for early prevention and treatment.