Fibroblasts in Hypoxic Conditions Mimic Laryngotracheal Stenosis

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To elucidate the role of hypoxia and inflammatory pathways in the pathogenesis of iatrogenic laryngotracheal stenosis (iLTS).

Study Design

(1) Examination of mucosal surface gene expression in human iLTS. (2) In vitro comparison of normal and scar laryngotracheal fibroblasts under normoxic and hypoxic conditions.


Tertiary care hospital in a research university (2012-2016).

Subjects and Methods

Brush biopsies were obtained from normal laryngotracheal tissue and scar in iLTS patients; gene expression was compared. Fibroblasts were isolated from normal and scarred trachea and grown in vitro in either a 1% O2 or normoxic environment. Cell growth and gene and protein expression were compared. Statistical analysis utilized a multilevel mixed effects model.


Expression of IL-6 (fold change = 2.8, P < .01), myofibroblast marker αSMA (fold change = 3.0, P = .01), and MMP13 (fold change = 5.4, P = .02) was significantly increased in scar biopsy samples as compared to normal. Under hypoxic conditions in vitro, normal laryngotracheal fibroblasts proliferated significantly faster (n = 8, P < .01 each day). Expression of IL-6 (n = 8, fold change = 2.6, P < .01) increased significantly after 12 hours under hypoxia. Expression of αSMA (n = 8, fold change= 2.0, P = .03), COL1 (n = 8, fold change = 1.1, P = .03), and MMP13 (n = 8, fold change = 1.6, P = .01) increased significantly after 48 hours under hypoxia. Scar fibroblasts also proliferated significantly faster under hypoxic conditions but did not display the same expression profile.


Human iLTS scar has a myofibroblast phenotype. Under hypoxic conditions in vitro, normal laryngotracheal fibroblasts can transdifferentiate into a similar phenotype. These changes may be mediated by IL-6, a fibrosis-related cytokine.

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