The inflammatory speech of fibroblasts

Ronen Schuster, Jason S. Rockel, Mohit Kapoor, Boris Hinz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Activation of fibroblasts is a key event during normal tissue repair after injury and the dysregulated repair processes that result in organ fibrosis. To most researchers, fibroblasts are rather unremarkable spindle-shaped cells embedded in the fibrous collagen matrix of connective tissues and/or deemed useful to perform mechanistic studies with adherent cells in culture. For more than a century, fibroblasts escaped thorough classification due to the lack of specific markers and were treated as the leftovers after all other cells have been identified from a tissue sample. With novel cell lineage tracing and single cell transcriptomics tools, bona fide fibroblasts emerge as only one heterogeneous sub-population of a much larger group of partly overlapping cell types, including mesenchymal stromal cells, fibro-adipogenic progenitor cells, pericytes, and/or perivascular cells. All these cells are activated to contribute to tissue repair after injury and/or chronic inflammation. “Activation” can entail various functions, such as enhanced proliferation, migration, instruction of inflammatory cells, secretion of extracellular matrix proteins and organizing enzymes, and acquisition of a contractile myofibroblast phenotype. We provide our view on the fibroblastic cell types and activation states playing a role during physiological and pathological repair and their crosstalk with inflammatory macrophages. Inflammation and fibrosis of the articular synovium during rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are used as specific examples to discuss inflammatory fibroblast phenotypes. Ultimately, delineating the precursors and functional roles of activated fibroblastic cells will contribute to better and more specific intervention strategies to treat fibroproliferative and fibrocontractive disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)126-146
Number of pages21
JournalImmunological Reviews
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Myofibroblast
  • fibroblast lineage
  • fibrosis
  • inflammation
  • macrophage
  • osteoarthritis
  • pericyte
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • synovium
  • tissue repair
  • wound healing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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