Lineage-negative progenitors mobilize to regenerate lung epithelium after major injury

Vaughan, A.E., Brumwell, A.N., Xi, Y. et al.

Broadly, tissue regeneration is achieved in two ways: by proliferation of common differentiated cells and/or by deployment of specialized stem/progenitor cells. Which of these pathways applies is both organ and injury-specific. Current paradigms in the lung posit that epithelial repair can be attributed to cells expressing mature lineage markers. In contrast we here define the regenerative role of previously uncharacterized, rare lineage-negative epithelial stem/progenitor (LNEPs) cells present within normal distal lung. Quiescent LNEPs activate a ΔNp63/cytokeratin 5 (Krt5+) remodeling program after influenza or bleomycin injury. Activated cells proliferate and migrate widely to occupy heavily injured areas depleted of mature lineages, whereupon they differentiate toward mature epithelium. Lineage tracing revealed scant contribution of pre-existing mature epithelial cells in such repair, whereas orthotopic transplantation of LNEPs, isolated by a definitive surface profile identified through single cell sequencing, directly demonstrated the proliferative capacity and multipotency of this population. LNEPs require Notch signaling to activate the ΔNp63/Krt5+ program whereas subsequent Notch blockade promotes an alveolar cell fate. Persistent Notch signaling post-injury led to parenchymal micro-honeycombing, indicative of failed regeneration. Lungs from fibrosis patients show analogous honeycomb cysts with evidence of hyperactive Notch signaling. Our findings indicate distinct stem/progenitor cell pools repopulate injured tissue depending on the extent of injury, and the outcomes of regeneration or fibrosis may ride in part on the dynamics of LNEP Notch signaling.


Vaughan, A.E., Brumwell, A.N., Xi, Y. et al. "Lineage-negative progenitors mobilize to regenerate lung epithelium after major injury" Nature (2015): 621–5