We performed subtractive and differential hybridization for transcript comparison between murine fibroblasts and isogenic epithelium, and observed only a few novel intracellular genes which were relatively specific for fibroblasts. One such gene encodes a filament-associated, calcium-binding protein, fibroblast-specific protein 1 (FSP1). The promoter/enhancer region driving this gene is active in fibroblasts but not in epithelium, mesangial cells or embryonic endoderm. During development, FSP1 is first detected by in situ hybridization after day 8.5 as a postgastrulation event, and is associated with cells of mesenchymal origin or of fibroblastic phenotype. Polyclonal antiserum raised to recombinant FSP1 protein stained the cytoplasm of fibroblasts, but not epithelium. Only occasional cells stain with specific anti-FSP1 antibodies in normal parenchymal tissue. However, in kidneys fibrosing from persistent inflammation, many fibroblasts could be identified in interstitial sites of collagen deposition and also in tubular epithelium adjacent to the inflammatory process. This pattern of anti-FSP1 staining during tissue fibrosis suggests, as a hypothesis, that fibroblasts in some cases arise, as needed, from the local conversion of epithelium. Consistent with this notion that FSP1 may be involved in the transition from epithelium to fibroblasts are experiments in which the in vitro overexpression of FSP1 cDNA in tubular epithelium is accompanied by conversion to a mesenchymal phenotype, as characterized by a more stellate and elongated fibroblast-like appearance, a reduction in cytokeratin, and new expression of vimentin. Similarly, tubular epithelium submerged in type I collagen gels exhibited the conversion to a fibroblast phenotype which includes de novo expression of FSP1 and vimentin. Use of the FSP1 marker, therefore, should further facilitate both the in vivo studies of fibrogenesis and the mapping of cell fate among fibroblasts.

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