A new study by Chinese researchers identified several idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF)-related differentially expressed genes that could become potential biomarkers. More research is needed to confirm the utility of these biomarkers, according to the authors of the study that was published in the journal BioMed Research International.

IPF is an irreversible lung disease affecting more than 3 million people worldwide. The pathogenesis of the disease remains poorly understood. Early diagnosis is of utmost importance for timely treatment and can impact long-term clinical outcomes. However, the diagnosis of the disease is still challenging and no reliable biomarkers exist that can be used across all patients. 

To explore the potential role of different genes and molecular mechanisms underlying the pathophysiology of IPF, a team of researchers led by Xinying Zhang identified differentially expressed genes between IPF and controls in the GSE99621 dataset, which contains RNA-seq data on 8 affected areas of the lung, 10 unaffected areas of the lung, and 8 healthy controls.

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Using a functional enrichment analysis, the researchers found that these differentially expressed genes were mainly enriched in biological processes such as immune and inflammatory response, chemokine-mediated signaling pathways, and cell adhesion.

Among the differentially expressed genes that they identified, the researchers found several miRNA targets such as RAB11FIP1, TGFBR3, and SPP1. It is known that miRNA-mRNA interactions are critically involved in the development of IPF. So, miRNAs could be inducing the differential expression of these genes at the posttranscriptional level.

The researchers also identified 304 genes that were upregulated and 282 genes that were downregulated in IPF. These differentially expressed genes were mainly involved in cell adhesion, extracellular matrix organization, oxidation and reduction process, and the development of lung vasculature. 

Using protein-protein interaction networks, the researchers identified 3 upregulated genes (GPX8, VCAM1, and SPP1) and 4 downregulated genes (GABARAPL1, SGTA, ARRB1, and HLA-B) as potential hub genes, which may play important roles in the pathogenesis of IPF and, therefore, be the target of novel IPF treatments.

“These biomarkers might provide novel insights for further experimental research”, the researchers wrote. “Large-scale multicentric studies are eagerly needed to confirm the utility of these biomarkers,” they added.


Qian W, Cai X, Qian Q, Zhang X. Identification and validation of potential biomarkers and pathways for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis by comprehensive bioinformatics analysis. Biomed Res Int. Published online July 4, 2021 doi:10.1155/2021/5545312