Background: Recent evidence has demonstrated the role of angiogenesis in the pathogenesis of pulmonary fibrosis. Endostatin, a proteolytic fragment of collagen XVIII, is a potent inhibitor of angiogenesis. The aim of our study was to assess whether endostatin has beneficial effects on bleomycin (BLM)-induced pulmonary fibrosis in rats. Methods: The rats were randomly divided into five experimental groups: (A) saline only, (B) BLM only, (C) BLM plus early endostatin treatment, (D) BLM plus late endostatin treatment, and (F) BLM plus whole-course endostatin treatment. We investigated the microvascular density (MVD), inflammatory response and alveolar epithelial cell apoptosis in rat lungs in each group at different phases of disease development. Results: Early endostatin administration attenuated fibrotic changes in BLM-induced pulmonary fibrosis in rats. Endostatin treatment decreased MVD by inhibiting the expression of VEGF/VEGFR-2 (Flk-1) and the activation of extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2). Endostatin treatment also decreased the number of inflammatory cells infiltrating the bronchoalveolar lavage fluid during the early inflammatory phase of BLM-induced pulmonary fibrosis. In addition, the levels of tumour necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) and transforming growth factor β1 (TGF-β1) were reduced by endostatin treatment. Furthermore, endostatin decreased alveolar type II cell apoptosis and had an epithelium-protective effect. These might be the mechanism underlying the preventive effect of endostatin on pulmonary fibrosis. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that endostatin treatment inhibits the increased MVD, inflammation and alveolar epithelial cell apoptosis, consequently ameliorating BLM-induced pulmonary fibrosis in rats
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