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BioMed Research International
Volume 2015 (2015), Article ID 573210, 12 pages
Review Article

Breakdown of Epithelial Barrier Integrity and Overdrive Activation of Alveolar Epithelial Cells in the Pathogenesis of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome and Lung Fibrosis

Division of Neurology, Respirology, Endocrinology and Metabolism, Department of Internal Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Miyazaki, Kiyotake, Miyazaki 889-1692, Japan

Received 19 June 2015; Revised 5 September 2015; Accepted 15 September 2015

Academic Editor: Francesco Bonella

Copyright © 2015 Shigehisa Yanagi et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Individual alveolar epithelial cells (AECs) collaboratively form a tight barrier between atmosphere and fluid-filled tissue to enable normal gas exchange. The tight junctions of AECs provide intercellular sealing and are integral to the maintenance of the AEC barrier integrity. Disruption and failure of reconstitution of AEC barrier result in catastrophic consequences, leading to alveolar flooding and subsequent devastating fibrotic scarring. Recent evidences reveal that many of the fibrotic lung diseases involve AECs both as a frequent target of injury and as a driver of ongoing pathological processes. Aberrantly activated AECs express most of the growth factors and chemokines responsible for the proliferation, migration, and activation of fibroblasts. Current evidences suggest that AECs may acquire overdrive activation in the initial step of fibrosis by several mechanisms, including abnormal recapitulation of the developmental pathway, defects of the molecules essential for epithelial integrity, and acceleration of aging-related properties. Among these initial triggering events, epithelial Pten, a multiple phosphatase that negatively regulates the PI3K/Akt pathway and is crucial for lung development, is essential for the prevention of alveolar flooding and lung fibrosis through the regulation of AEC barrier integrity after injury. Reestablishment of AEC barrier integrity also involves the deployment of specialized stem/progenitor cells.