A new bioassay identifies proliferation ratios of fibroblasts and myofibroblasts



Myofibroblasts are resident cells of wound healing, contractures and fibroses; these tissues are often referred to as fibroproliferative. Whether myofibroblasts themselves proliferate is of interest. Since many in vitro cultures are heterogeneous, staining in situ is required to identify the myofibroblast. We have tested a newly available fluorescent staining kit using ethynyl deoxyuridine (EdU) and click chemistry to identify EdU incorporation into the replicated DNA of proliferative cells. The proliferation stain was combined with the definitive myofibroblast immunostain for alpha smooth muscle actin (α-sma). Fibroblasts were grown on coverslips and within attached collagen lattices. Cultures were pulsed with EdU 4 h prior to fixation. Different standard methods of fixation and permeabilization were used to test the effects of these variables on EdU and α-sma labeling. Images of the stained samples were quantified as the total percentage of proliferative cells, as well as the proportion of fibroblasts and myofibroblasts that were proliferating. Proliferative myofibroblasts were identified in both culture conditions and with all preparation methods tested. Proliferation within the fibroblast population was greater than within the myofibroblast population in both culture conditions. Fixation and permeabilization had little effect on EdU or α-sma labeling. This method of identifying proliferative myofibroblasts will be useful in future studies of myofibroblast proliferation within heterogeneous populations.