Fibrocytes, ahematopoietic stem cell source of fibroblasts/myofibroblasts, were previously implicated to infiltrate into the intestinal and enhance inflammation.
The aims of the present study were to elucidate the role of fibrocytes in necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) pathogenesis and to explore the mechanisms by which fibrocytes contributed to the inflammatory responses.
We investigated circulating and intestinal local fibrocytes from 32 patients with NEC, 8 patients with noninflammatory conditions of the gastrointestinal tract and 12 normal subjects.
Significantly higher numbers of circulating fibrocytes were found in the peripheral blood from NEC patients than the controls (P < .01). Numerous fibrocytes were found infiltrating the NEC intestinal mucous membranes. The percentage of fibrocytes to total leukocytes in the NEC inflammatory lesions was significantly increased compared with the percentage in the noninflammatory gastrointestinal tract. The fibrocyte attractant chemokine C-X-C motif chemokine ligand 12 (CXCL12) was significantly increased in the plasma and was detectable in 80% of the peritoneal lavage fluid from NEC patients but not the controls. Furthermore, chemokine expression was increased in fibrocytes infiltrating and trafficking to leukocyte sites. In culture, lipopolysaccharide (LPS) induced a significant increase in the expression of the Toll-like receptor (TLR4) signal, with the upregulation of p38 in both the isolated fibrocytes and macrophages. Similarly, interleukin (IL)-1β induced increased the upregulation of the IL-6, tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, and intercellular cell adhesion molecule-1 mRNAs but downregulated ColI in fibrocytes isolated from NEC patients compared with the controls.
These findings indicate that circulating fibrocytes are increased in NEC patients and may be recruited to the inflammatory intestinal track, most likely through the CXCR4/CXCL12 axis. These cells may contribute to intestinal inflammation through TLR4 signaling by producing the TNF-α and IL-6 cytokines.