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Cardiac fibroblasts have a central role during the ventricular remodeling process associated with different types of cardiac injury. Recent studies have shown that fibroblasts do not respond homogeneously to heart damage, suggesting that the adult myocardium may contain specialized fibroblast subgroups with specific functions. Due to the limited set of bona fide fibroblast markers, a proper characterization of fibroblast population dynamics in response to cardiac damage is still missing. Using single-cell RNA-seq, we identified and characterized a fibroblast subpopulation that emerges in response to myocardial infarction (MI) in a murine model. These activated fibroblasts exhibit a clear pro-fibrotic signature, express high levels of the hormone CTHRC1 and of the immunomodulatory co-receptor CD200 and localize to the injured myocardium. Combining epigenomic profiling with functional assays, we show Sox9 and the non-canonical TGF-β signaling as important regulators mediating their response to cardiac damage. We show that the absence of CTHRC1, in this activated fibroblast subpopulation, results in pronounced lethality due to ventricular rupture in a mouse model of myocardial infarction. Finally, we find evidence for the existence of similar mechanisms in a pig preclinical model of MI and establish a correlation between CTHRC1 levels and cardiac function after MI.

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