The major unexplained phenomenon in fibrotic conditions is an increase in replicating fibroblasts. In this report we present evidence that oxygen free radicals can both stimulate and inhibit proliferation of cultured human fibroblasts, and that fibroblasts themselves release superoxide (O2.-) free radicals. Fibroblasts released O2.- in concentrations which stimulated proliferation, a finding confirmed by a dose-dependent inhibition of proliferation by free radical scavengers. Oxygen free radicals released by a host of agents may thus provide a very fast, specific and sensitive trigger for fibroblast proliferation. Prolonged stimulation may result in fibrosis, and agents which inhibit free radical release may have a role in the prevention of fibrosis.

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