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1.  Chitins and Chitosans as Immunoadjuvants and Non-Allergenic Drug Carriers 
Marine Drugs  2010;8(2):292-312.
Due to the fact that some individuals are allergic to crustaceans, the presumed relationship between allergy and the presence of chitin in crustaceans has been investigated. In vivo, chitin is part of complex structures with other organic and inorganic compounds: in arthropods chitin is covalently linked to proteins and tanned by quinones, in fungi it is covalently linked to glucans, while in bacteria chitin is diversely combined according to Gram(+/−) classification. On the other hand, isolated, purified chitin is a plain polysaccharide that, at the nano level, presents itself as a highly associated structure, recently refined in terms of regularity, nature of bonds, crystallinity degree and unusual colloidal behavior. Chitins and modified chitins exert a number of beneficial actions, i.e., (i) they stimulate macrophages by interacting with receptors on the macrophage surface that mediate the internalization of chitin particles to be degraded by lysozyme and N-acetyl-β-glucosaminidase (such as Nod-like, Toll-like, lectin, Dectin-1, leukotriene 134 and mannose receptors); (ii) the macrophages produce cytokines and other compounds that confer non-specific host resistance against bacterial and viral infections, and anti-tumor activity; (iii) chitin is a strong Th1 adjuvant that up-regulates Th1 immunity induced by heat-killed Mycobacterium bovis, while down- regulating Th2 immunity induced by mycobacterial protein; (iv) direct intranasal application of chitin microparticles into the lung was also able to significantly down-regulate allergic response to Dermatophagoids pteronyssinus and Aspergillus fumigatus in a murine model of allergy; (v) chitin microparticles had a beneficial effect in preventing and treating histopathologic changes in the airways of asthmatic mice; (vi) authors support the fact that chitin depresses the development of adaptive type 2 allergic responses. Since the expression of chitinases, chitrotriosidase and chitinase-like proteins is greatly amplified during many infections and diseases, the common feature of chitinase-like proteins and chitinase activity in all organisms appears to be the biochemical defense of the host. Unfortunately, conceptual and methodological errors are present in certain recent articles dealing with chitin and allergy, i.e., (1) omitted consideration of mammalian chitinase and/or chitotriosidase secretion, accompanied by inactive chitinase-like proteins, as an ancestral defensive means against invasion, capable to prevent the insurgence of allergy; (2) omitted consideration of the fact that the mammalian organism recognizes more promptly the secreted water soluble chitinase produced by a pathogen, rather than the insoluble and well protected chitin within the pathogen itself; (3) superficial and incomplete reports and investigations on chitin as an allergen, without mentioning the potent allergen from crustacean flesh, tropomyosine; (4) limited perception of the importance of the chemical/biochemical characteristics of the isolated chitin or chitosan for the replication of experiments and optimization of results; and (5) lack of interdisciplinarity. There is quite a large body of knowledge today on the use of chitosans as biomaterials, and more specifically as drug carriers for a variety of applications: the delivery routes being the same as those adopted for the immunological studies. Said articles, that devote attention to the safety and biocompatibility aspects, never reported intolerance or allergy in individuals and animals, even when the quantities of chitosan used in single experiments were quite large. Therefore, it is concluded that crab, shrimp, prawn and lobster chitins, as well as chitosans of all grades, once purified, should not be considered as “crustacean derivatives”, because the isolation procedures have removed proteins, fats and other contaminants to such an extent as to allow them to be classified as chemicals regardless of their origin.
PMCID: PMC2852840  PMID: 20390107
chitin; chitosan; chitinase; chitinase-like proteins; immunology
2.  Chitin Regulation of Immune Responses: An Old Molecule With New Roles 
Current opinion in immunology  2008;20(6):684-689.
Chitin, the second most abundant polysaccharide in nature, is commonly found in lower organisms such as fungi, crustaceans and insects, but not in mammals. Although the non-specific anti-viral and anti-tumor activities of chitin/chitin derivatives were described two decades ago, the immunological effects of chitin have been only recently been addressed. Recent studies demonstrated that chitin has complex and size-dependent effects on innate and adaptive immune responses including the ability to recruit and activate innate immune cells and induce cytokine and chemokine production via a variety of cell surface receptors including macrophage mannose receptor, toll-like receptor 2 (TLR-2), and Dectin-1. They also demonstrated adjuvant effects of chitin in allergen-induced Type 1 or Type 2 inflammation and provided insights into the important roles of chitinases and chitinase-like proteins (C/CLP) in pulmonary inflammation. The status of the field and areas of controversy are highlighted.
PMCID: PMC2605627  PMID: 18938241
chitin; chitinases; chitinase-like protein; innate and adaptive immunity
3.  Role of Chitin and Chitinase/Chitinase-Like Proteins in Inflammation, Tissue Remodeling, and Injury 
Annual review of physiology  2011;73:10.1146/annurev-physiol-012110-142250.
The 18 glycosyl hydrolase family of chitinases is an ancient gene family that is widely expressed from prokaryotes to eukaryotes. In mammals, despite the absence of endogenous chitin, a number of chitinases and chitinase-like proteins (C/CLPs) have been identified. However, their roles have only recently begun to be elucidated. Acidic mammalian chitinase (AMCase) inhibits chitin-induced innate inflammation; augments chitin-free, allergen-induced Th2 inflammation; and mediates effector functions of IL-13. The CLPs BRP-39/YKL-40 (also termed chitinase 3-like 1) inhibit oxidant-induced lung injury, augments adaptive Th2 immunity, regulates apoptosis, stimulates alternative macrophage activation, and contributes to fibrosis and wound healing. In accord with these findings, levels of YKL-40 in the lung and serum are increased in asthma and other inflammatory and remodeling disorders and often correlate with disease severity. Our understanding of the roles of C/CLPs in inflammation, tissue remodeling, and tissue injury in health and disease is reviewed below.
PMCID: PMC3864643  PMID: 21054166
asthma; fibrosis; BRP-39/YKL-40; AMCase; chitotriosidase
4.  Chitinase family GH18: evolutionary insights from the genomic history of a diverse protein family 
Chitinases (EC. hydrolyze the β-1,4-linkages in chitin, an abundant N-acetyl-β-D-glucosamine polysaccharide that is a structural component of protective biological matrices such as insect exoskeletons and fungal cell walls. The glycoside hydrolase 18 (GH18) family of chitinases is an ancient gene family widely expressed in archea, prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Mammals are not known to synthesize chitin or metabolize it as a nutrient, yet the human genome encodes eight GH18 family members. Some GH18 proteins lack an essential catalytic glutamic acid and are likely to act as lectins rather than as enzymes. This study used comparative genomic analysis to address the evolutionary history of the GH18 multiprotein family, from early eukaryotes to mammals, in an effort to understand the forces that shaped the human genome content of chitinase related proteins.
Gene duplication and loss according to a birth-and-death model of evolution is a feature of the evolutionary history of the GH18 family. The current human family likely originated from ancient genes present at the time of the bilaterian expansion (approx. 550 mya). The family expanded in the chitinous protostomes C. elegans and D. melanogaster, declined in early deuterostomes as chitin synthesis disappeared, and expanded again in late deuterostomes with a significant increase in gene number after the avian/mammalian split.
This comprehensive genomic study of animal GH18 proteins reveals three major phylogenetic groups in the family: chitobiases, chitinases/chitolectins, and stabilin-1 interacting chitolectins. Only the chitinase/chitolectin group is associated with expansion in late deuterostomes. Finding that the human GH18 gene family is closely linked to the human major histocompatibility complex paralogon on chromosome 1, together with the recent association of GH18 chitinase activity with Th2 cell inflammation, suggests that its late expansion could be related to an emerging interface of innate and adaptive immunity during early vertebrate history.
PMCID: PMC1945033  PMID: 17594485
5.  Chitin Induces Tissue Accumulation of Innate Immune Cells Associated with Allergy 
Nature  2007;447(7140):92-96.
Allergic and parasitic helminth immunity is characterized by infiltration of tissues with IL-4- and IL-13-expressing cells, including Th2 cells, eosinophils and basophils1. Tissue macrophages assume a distinct phenotype, designated alternatively activated macrophages2. Relatively little is known regarding factors that trigger these host responses. Chitin, a widespread environmental biopolymer of N-acetyl-β-D-glucosamine, confers structural rigidity to fungi, crustaceans, helminths and insects3. Here, we show that chitin induces the tissue accumulation of IL-4-expressing innate immune cells, including eosinophils and basophils, when given to mice. Tissue infiltration was unaffected by the absence of Toll-like receptor-mediated LPS recognition and was abolished by treatment of chitin with the IL-4- and IL-13-inducible mammalian chitinase, AMCase4, or by injection into mice that over-expressed AMCase. Chitin mediated alternative macrophage activation in vivo and production of leukotriene B4, which was required for optimal immune cell recruitment. Chitin is a recognition element for tissue infiltration by innate cells implicated in allergic and helminth immunity and this process can be negatively regulated by a vertebrate chitinase.
PMCID: PMC2527589  PMID: 17450126
6.  Fungal Chitin Dampens Inflammation through IL-10 Induction Mediated by NOD2 and TLR9 Activation 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(4):e1004050.
Chitin is an essential structural polysaccharide of fungal pathogens and parasites, but its role in human immune responses remains largely unknown. It is the second most abundant polysaccharide in nature after cellulose and its derivatives today are widely used for medical and industrial purposes. We analysed the immunological properties of purified chitin particles derived from the opportunistic human fungal pathogen Candida albicans, which led to the selective secretion of the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10. We identified NOD2, TLR9 and the mannose receptor as essential fungal chitin-recognition receptors for the induction of this response. Chitin reduced LPS-induced inflammation in vivo and may therefore contribute to the resolution of the immune response once the pathogen has been defeated. Fungal chitin also induced eosinophilia in vivo, underpinning its ability to induce asthma. Polymorphisms in the identified chitin receptors, NOD2 and TLR9, predispose individuals to inflammatory conditions and dysregulated expression of chitinases and chitinase-like binding proteins, whose activity is essential to generate IL-10-inducing fungal chitin particles in vitro, have also been linked to inflammatory conditions and asthma. Chitin recognition is therefore critical for immune homeostasis and is likely to have a significant role in infectious and allergic disease.
Authors Summary
Chitin is the second most abundant polysaccharide in nature after cellulose and an essential component of the cell wall of all fungal pathogens. The discovery of human chitinases and chitinase-like binding proteins indicates that fungal chitin is recognised by cells of the human immune system, shaping the immune response towards the invading pathogen. We show that three immune cell receptors– the mannose receptor, NOD2 and TLR9 recognise chitin and act together to mediate an anti-inflammatory response via secretion of the cytokine IL-10. This mechanism may prevent inflammation-based damage during fungal infection and restore immune balance after an infection has been cleared. By increasing the chitin content in the cell wall pathogenic fungi may influence the immune system in their favour, by down-regulating protective inflammatory immune responses. Furthermore, gene mutations and dysregulated enzyme activity in the described chitin recognition pathway are implicated in inflammatory conditions such as Crohn's Disease and asthma, highlighting the importance of the discovered mechanism in human health.
PMCID: PMC3983064  PMID: 24722226
7.  The Listeria monocytogenes ChiA Chitinase Enhances Virulence through Suppression of Host Innate Immunity 
mBio  2013;4(2):e00617-12.
Environmental pathogens survive and replicate within the outside environment while maintaining the capacity to infect mammalian hosts. For some microorganisms, mammalian infection may be a relatively rare event. Understanding how environmental pathogens retain their ability to cause disease may provide insight into environmental reservoirs of disease and emerging infections. Listeria monocytogenes survives as a saprophyte in soil but is capable of causing serious invasive disease in susceptible individuals. The bacterium secretes virulence factors that promote cell invasion, bacterial replication, and cell-to-cell spread. Recently, an L. monocytogenes chitinase (ChiA) was shown to enhance bacterial infection in mice. Given that mammals do not synthesize chitin, the function of ChiA within infected animals was not clear. Here we have demonstrated that ChiA enhances L. monocytogenes survival in vivo through the suppression of host innate immunity. L. monocytogenes ΔchiA mutants were fully capable of establishing bacterial replication within target organs during the first 48 h of infection. By 72 to 96 h postinfection, however, numbers of ΔchiA bacteria diminished, indicative of an effective immune response to contain infection. The ΔchiA-associated virulence defect could be complemented in trans by wild-type L. monocytogenes, suggesting that secreted ChiA altered a target that resulted in a more permissive host environment for bacterial replication. ChiA secretion resulted in a dramatic decrease in inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) expression, and ΔchiA mutant virulence was restored in NOS2−/− mice lacking iNOS. This work is the first to demonstrate modulation of a specific host innate immune response by a bacterial chitinase.
Bacterial chitinases have traditionally been viewed as enzymes that either hydrolyze chitin as a food source or serve as a defense mechanism against organisms containing structural chitin (such as fungi). Recent evidence indicates that bacterial chitinases and chitin-binding proteins contribute to pathogenesis, primarily via bacterial adherence to chitin-like molecules present on the surface of mammalian cells. In contrast, mammalian chitinases have been linked to immunity via inflammatory immune responses that occur outside the context of infection, and since mammals do not produce chitin, the targets of these mammalian chitinases have remained elusive. This work demonstrates that a Listeria monocytogenes-secreted chitinase has distinct functional roles that include chitin hydrolysis and suppression of host innate immunity. The established link between chitinase and the inhibition of host inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) expression may help clarify the thus far elusive relationship observed between mammalian chitinase enzymes and host inflammatory responses occurring in the absence of infection.
PMCID: PMC3604766  PMID: 23512964
8.  Complement Component 3C3 and C3a Receptor Are Required in Chitin-Dependent Allergic Sensitization to Aspergillus fumigatus but Dispensable in Chitin-Induced Innate Allergic Inflammation 
mBio  2013;4(2):e00162-13.
Levels of the anaphylatoxin C3a are increased in patients with asthma compared with those in nonasthmatics and increase further still during asthma exacerbations. However, the role of C3a during sensitization to allergen is poorly understood. Sensitization to fungal allergens, such as Aspergillus fumigatus, is a strong risk factor for the development of asthma. Exposure to chitin, a structural polysaccharide of the fungal cell wall, induces innate allergic inflammation and may promote sensitization to fungal allergens. Here, we found that coincubation of chitin with serum or intratracheal administration of chitin in mice resulted in the generation of C3a. We established a model of chitin-dependent sensitization to soluble Aspergillus antigens to test the contribution of complement to these events. C3−/− and C3aR−/− mice were protected from chitin-dependent sensitization to Aspergillus and had reduced lung eosinophilia and type 2 cytokines and serum IgE. In contrast, complement-deficient mice were not protected against chitin-induced innate allergic inflammation. In sensitized mice, plasmacytoid dendritic cells from complement-deficient animals acquired a tolerogenic profile associated with enhanced regulatory T cell responses and suppressed Th2 and Th17 responses specific for Aspergillus. Thus, chitin induces the generation of C3a in the lung, and chitin-dependent allergic sensitization to Aspergillus requires C3aR signaling, which suppresses regulatory dendritic cells and T cells and induces allergy-promoting T cells.
Asthma is one of the fastest growing chronic illnesses worldwide. Chitin, a ubiquitous polymer in our environment and a key component in the cell wall of fungal spores and the exoskeletons of insects, parasites, and crustaceans, triggers innate allergic inflammation. However, there is little understanding of how chitin is initially recognized by mammals and how early recognition of chitin affects sensitization to environmental allergens and development of allergic asthma. The complement system is evolutionarily one of the oldest facets of the early or innate warning systems in mammals. We studied whether and how complement components influence the recognition of chitin and shape the downstream sensitization toward fungal allergens. We show here that complement recognition of chitin plays a critical role in shaping the behavior of dendritic cells, which in turn regulate the function of T cells that mediate allergic responses to fungi.
PMCID: PMC3622928  PMID: 23549917
9.  Potential role of chitinase 3-like-1 in inflammation-associated carcinogenic changes of epithelial cells 
The family of mammalian chitinases includes members both with and without glycohydrolase enzymatic activity against chitin, a polymer of N-acetylglucosamine. Chitin is the structural component of fungi, crustaceans, insects and parasitic nematodes, but is completely absent in mammals. Exposure to antigens containing chitin- or chitin-like structures sometimes induces strong T helper type-I responses in mammals, which may be associated with the induction of mammalian chitinases. Chitinase 3-like-1 (CHI3L1), a member of the mammalian chitinase family, is induced specifically during the course of inflammation in such disorders as inflammatory bowel disease, hepatitis and asthma. In addition, CHI3L1 is expressed and secreted by several types of solid tumors including glioblastoma, colon cancer, breast cancer and malignant melanoma. Although the exact function of CHI3L1 in inflammation and cancer is still largely unknown, CHI3L1 plays a pivotal role in exacerbating the inflammatory processes and in promoting angiogenesis and remodeling of the extracellular matrix. CHI3L1 may be highly involved in the chronic engagement of inflammation which potentiates development of epithelial tumorigenesis presumably by activating the mitogen-activated protein kinase and the protein kinase B signaling pathways. Anti-CHI3L1 antibodies or pan-chitinase inhibitors may have the potential to suppress CHI3L1-mediated chronic inflammation and the subsequent carcinogenic change in epithelial cells.
PMCID: PMC2776850  PMID: 19908331
Mammals; Chitinase 3-like 1; Colon; Epithelial cells; Inflammation; Colitis; Colon neoplasms; Inflammatory bowel disease
10.  Role of breast regression protein-39/YKL-40 in asthma and allergic responses 
BRP-39 and its human homolog YKL-40 have been regarded as a prototype of chitinase-like proteins (CLP) in mammals. Exaggerated levels of YKL-40 protein and/or mRNA have been noted in a number of diseases characterized by inflammation, tissue remodeling, and aberrant cell growth. Asthma is an inflammatory disease characterized by airway hyperresponsiveness and airway remodeling. Recently, the novel regulatory role of BRP-39/YKL-40 in the pathogenesis of asthma has been demonstrated both in human studies and allergic animal models. The levels of YKL-40 are increased in the circulation and lungs from asthmatics where they correlate with disease severity, and CHI3L1 polymorphisms correlate with serum YKL-40 levels, asthma and abnormal lung function. Animal studies using BRP-39 null mutant mice demonstrated that BRP-39 was required for optimal allergen sensitization and Th2 inflammation. These studies suggest the potential use of BRP-39 as a biomarker as well as a therapeutic target for asthma and other allergic diseases. Here, we present an overview of chitin/chitinase biology and summarize recent findings on the role of BRP-39 in the pathogenesis of asthma and allergic responses.
PMCID: PMC2831605  PMID: 20224674
BRP-39; human CHI3L1 protein; asthma; hypersensitivity
11.  Chitin Modulates Innate Immune Responses of Keratinocytes 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(2):e16594.
Chitin, after cellulose the second most abundant polysaccharide in nature, is an essential component of exoskeletons of crabs, shrimps and insects and protects these organisms from harsh conditions in their environment. Unexpectedly, chitin has been found to activate innate immune cells and to elicit murine airway inflammation. The skin represents the outer barrier of the human host defense and is in frequent contact with chitin-bearing organisms, such as house-dust mites or flies. The effects of chitin on keratinocytes, however, are poorly understood.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We hypothesized that chitin stimulates keratinocytes and thereby modulates the innate immune response of the skin. Here we show that chitin is bioactive on primary and immortalized keratinocytes by triggering production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines. Chitin stimulation further induced the expression of the Toll-like receptor (TLR) TLR4 on keratinocytes at mRNA and protein level. Chitin-induced effects were mainly abrogated when TLR2 was blocked, suggesting that TLR2 senses chitin on keratinocytes.
We speculate that chitin-bearing organisms modulate the innate immune response towards pathogens by upregulating secretion of cytokines and chemokines and expression of MyD88-associated TLRs, two major components of innate immunity. The clinical relevance of this mechanism remains to be defined.
PMCID: PMC3044707  PMID: 21383982
12.  The Chitin Connection 
mBio  2012;3(2):e00056-12.
Chitin, a polymer of N-acetylglucosamine, is an essential component of the fungal cell wall. Chitosan, a deacetylated form of chitin, is also important in maintaining cell wall integrity and is essential for Cryptococcus neoformans virulence. In their article, Gilbert et al. [N. M. Gilbert, L. G. Baker, C. A. Specht, and J. K. Lodge, mBio 3(1):e00007-12, 2012] demonstrate that the enzyme responsible for chitosan synthesis, chitin deacetylase (CDA), is differentially attached to the cell membrane and wall. Bioactivity is localized to the cell membrane, where it is covalently linked via a glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI) anchor. Findings from this study significantly enhance our understanding of cryptococcal cell wall biology. Besides the role of chitin in supporting structural stability, chitin and host enzymes with chitinase activity have an important role in host defense and modifying the inflammatory response. Thus, chitin appears to provide a link between the fungus and host that involves both innate and adaptive immune responses. Recently, there has been increased attention to the role of chitinases in the pathogenesis of allergic inflammation, especially asthma. We review these findings and explore the possible connection between fungal infections, the induction of chitinases, and asthma.
PMCID: PMC3315704  PMID: 22448043
13.  The occurrence of chitin in the hemocytes of invertebrates 
Zoology (Jena, Germany)  2011;114(4):191-198.
The light-organ symbiosis of Euprymna scolopes, the Hawaiian bobtail squid, is a useful model for the study of animal–microbe interactions. Recent analyses have demonstrated that chitin breakdown products play a role in communication between E. scolopes and its bacterial symbiont Vibrio fischeri. In this study, we sought to determine the source of chitin in the symbiotic organ. We used a commercially available chitin-binding protein (CBP) conjugated to fluorescein to label the polymeric chitin in host tissues. Confocal microscopy revealed that the only cells in contact with the symbionts that labeled with the probe were the macrophage-like hemocytes, which traffic into the light-organ crypts where the bacteria reside. Labeling of extracted hemocytes by CBP was markedly decreased following treatment with purified chitinase, providing further evidence that the labeled molecule is polymeric chitin. Further, CBP-positive areas co-localized with both a halide peroxidase antibody and Lysotracker, a lysosomal marker, suggesting that the chitin-like biomolecule occurs in the lysosome or acidic vacuoles. Reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (PCR) of hemocytes revealed mRNA coding for a chitin synthase, suggesting that the hemocytes synthesize chitin de novo. Finally, upon surveying blood cells from other invertebrate species, we observed CBP-positive regions in all granular blood cells examined, suggesting that this feature is a shared character among the invertebrates; the vertebrate blood cells that we sampled did not label with CBP. Although the function of the chitin-like material remains undetermined, its presence and subcellular location in invertebrate hemocytes suggests a conserved role for this polysaccharide in the immune system of diverse animals.
PMCID: PMC3243742  PMID: 21723107
Host–microbe interactions; Euprymna scolopes; Lysosomes; Squid; Symbiosis
14.  Human Chitinases and Chitinase-Like Proteins as Indicators for Inflammation and Cancer 
Biomarker Insights  2007;2:128-146.
Human Glyco_18 domain-containing proteins constitute a family of chitinases and chitinase-like proteins. Chitotriosidase and AMCase are true enzymes which hydrolyse chitin and have a C-terminal chitin-binding domain. YKL-40, YKL-39, SI-CLP and murine YM1/2 proteins possess solely Glyco_18 domain and do not have the hydrolytic activity. The major sources of Glyco_18 containing proteins are macrophages, neutrophils, epithelial cells, chondrocytes, synovial cells, and cancer cells. Both macrophages and neutrophils use the regulated secretory mechanism for the release of Glyco_18 containing proteins. Glyco_18 containing proteins are established biomarkers for human diseases. Chitotriosidase is overproduced by lipid-laden macrophages and is a major marker for the inherited lysosomal storage Gaucher disease. AMCase and murine lectin YM1 are upregulated in Th2-environment, and enzymatic activity of AMCase contributes to asthma pathogenesis. YKL proteins act as soluble mediators for the cell proliferation and migration, and are also involved in rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, hepatic fibrosis and cirrhosis. Chitotriosidase and YKL-40 reflect the macrophage activation in atherosclerotic plaques. Serum level of YKL-40 is a diagnostic and prognostic marker for numerous types of solid tumors. YKL-39 is a marker for the activation of chondrocytes and the progression of the osteoarthritis in human. Recently identified SI-CLP is upregulated by Th2 cytokine IL-4 as well as by glucocorticoids. This unique feature of SI-CLP makes it an attractive candidate for the examination of individual sensitivity of patients to glucocorticoid treatment and prediction of side effects of glucocorticoid therapy. Human chitinases and chitinase-like proteins are found in tissues and circulation, and can be detected by non-invasive technologies.
PMCID: PMC2717817  PMID: 19662198
Glyco_18 Domain; Macrophage; Tumor; Arthritis; Gaucher Disease; Asthma
15.  Chitinases: An update 
Chitin, the second most abundant polysaccharide in nature after cellulose, is found in the exoskeleton of insects, fungi, yeast, and algae, and in the internal structures of other vertebrates. Chitinases are enzymes that degrade chitin. Chitinases contribute to the generation of carbon and nitrogen in the ecosystem. Chitin and chitinolytic enzymes are gaining importance for their biotechnological applications, especially the chitinases exploited in agriculture fields to control pathogens. Chitinases have a use in human health care, especially in human diseases like asthma. Chitinases have wide-ranging applications including the preparation of pharmaceutically important chitooligosaccharides and N-acetyl D glucosamine, preparation of single-cell protein, isolation of protoplasts from fungi and yeast, control of pathogenic fungi, treatment of chitinous waste, mosquito control and morphogenesis, etc. In this review, the various types of chitinases and the chitinases found in different organisms such as bacteria, plants, fungi, and mammals are discussed.
PMCID: PMC3612335  PMID: 23559820
Chitinases; chitinolytic enzymes; endochitinase; exochitinases
16.  Chitin Particles Are Multifaceted Immune Adjuvants 
Rationale: Chitin is a ubiquitous polysaccharide in fungi, insects, allergens, and parasites that is released at sites of infection. Its role in the generation of tissue inflammation, however, is not fully understood.
Objectives: We hypothesized that chitin is an important adjuvant for adaptive immunity.
Methods: Mice were injected with a solution of ovalbumin and chitin.
Measurements and Main Results: We used in vivo and ex vivo/in vitro approaches to characterize the ability of chitin fragments to foster adaptive immune responses against ovalbumin and compared these responses to those induced by aluminum hydroxide (alum). In vivo, ovalbumin challenge caused an eosinophil-rich pulmonary inflammatory response, Th2 cytokine elaboration, IgE induction, and mucus metaplasia in mice that had been sensitized with ovalbumin plus chitin or ovalbumin plus alum. Toll-like receptor-2, MyD88, and IL-17A played critical roles in the chitin-induced responses, and MyD88 and IL-17A played critical roles in the alum-induced responses. In vitro, CD4+ T cells from mice sensitized with ovalbumin plus chitin were incubated with ovalbumin-stimulated bone marrow–derived dendritic cells. In these experiments, CD4+ T-cell proliferation, IL-5, IL-13, IFN-γ, and IL-17A production were appreciated. Toll-like receptor-2, MyD88, and IL-17A played critical roles in these in vitro adjuvant properties of chitin. TLR-2 was required for cell proliferation, whereas IL-17 and TLR-2 were required for cytokine elaboration. IL-17A also inhibited the generation of adaptive Th1 responses.
Conclusions: These studies demonstrate that chitin is a potent multifaceted adjuvant that induces adaptive Th2, Th1, and Th17 immune responses. They also demonstrate that the adjuvant properties of chitin are mediated by a pathway(s) that involves and is regulated by TLR-2, MyD88, and IL-17A.
PMCID: PMC3029935  PMID: 20656945
chitin; adjuvant; ovalbumin; aluminum hydroxide; alum
17.  Chitin stimulates expression of acidic mammalian chitinase and eotaxin-3 by human sinonasal epithelial cells in vitro 
Sinonasal epithelial cells participate in host defense by initiating innate immune mechanisms against potential pathogens. Antimicrobial innate mechanisms have been shown to involve Th1-like inflammatory responses. Although epithelial cells can also be induced by Th2 cytokines to express proeosinophilic mediators, no environmental agents have been identified that promote this effect.
Human sinonasal epithelial cells from patients with chronic rhinosinusitis with nasal polyps (CRSwNPs) and controls were harvested and grown in primary culture. Cell cultures were exposed to a range of concentrations of chitin for 24 hours, and mRNA for acidic mammalian chitinase (AMCase), eotaxin-3, and thymic stromal-derived lymphopoietin (TSLP) were assessed. Other cultures were exposed to interleukin 4 (IL- 4) alone and in combination with dust-mite antigen (DMA) for 36 hours. Extracted mRNA and cell culture supernatant were analyzed for expression of AMCase and eotaxin-3.
Chitin induced a dose-dependent expression of AMCase and eotaxin-3 mRNA but not TSLP. Patients with recalcitrant CRSwNPs showed lower baseline expression of AMCase when compared with treatment-responsive CRSwNP and less induction of AMCase expression by chitin. DMA did not directly induce expression of AMCase or eotaxin-3. Expression of eotaxin-3 was stimulated by IL-4 and further enhanced with the addition of DMA. Levels of AMCase were not significantly affected by either IL-4 or DMA exposure. In some cases, the combination of IL-4 and DMA was able to induce AMCase expression in cell cultures not producing AMCase at baseline.
The abundant biopolymer chitin appears to be recognized by a yet uncharacterized receptor on sinonasal epithelial cells. Chitin stimulates production of AMCase and eotaxin-3, two pro-Th2 effector proteins. This finding suggests the existence of a novel innate immune pathway for local defense against chitin-containing organisms in the sinonasal tract. Dysregulation of this function could precipitate or exacerbate Th2 inflammation, potentially acting as an underlying factor in recalcitrant CRSwNP.
PMCID: PMC2904690  PMID: 19379605
Acidic mammalian chitinase; cell culture; chitin; eosinophils; epithelial cell; rhinitis; rhinosinusitis; sinonasal; Th2
18.  Functional Specialization Among Members Of Knickkopf Family Of Proteins In Insect Cuticle Organization 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(8):e1004537.
Our recent study on the functional analysis of the Knickkopf protein from T. castaneum (TcKnk), indicated a novel role for this protein in protection of chitin from degradation by chitinases. Knk is also required for the laminar organization of chitin in the procuticle. During a bioinformatics search using this protein sequence as the query, we discovered the existence of a small family of three Knk-like genes (including the prototypical TcKnk) in the T. castaneum genome as well as in all insects with completed genome assemblies. The two additional Knk-like genes have been named TcKnk2 and TcKnk3. Further complexity arises as a result of alternative splicing and alternative polyadenylation of transcripts of TcKnk3, leading to the production of three transcripts (and by inference, three proteins) from this gene. These transcripts are named TcKnk3-Full Length (TcKnk3-FL), TcKnk3-5′ and TcKnk3-3′. All three Knk-family genes appear to have essential and non-redundant functions. RNAi for TcKnk led to developmental arrest at every molt, while down-regulation of either TcKnk2 or one of the three TcKnk3 transcripts (TcKnk3-3′) resulted in specific molting arrest only at the pharate adult stage. All three Knk genes appear to influence the total chitin content at the pharate adult stage, but to variable extents. While TcKnk contributes mostly to the stability and laminar organization of chitin in the elytral and body wall procuticles, proteins encoded by TcKnk2 and TcKnk3-3′ transcripts appear to be required for the integrity of the body wall denticles and tracheal taenidia, but not the elytral and body wall procuticles. Thus, the three members of the Knk-family of proteins perform different essential functions in cuticle formation at different developmental stages and in different parts of the insect anatomy.
Author Summary
We have identified two additional members of the family of Knickkopf (Knk)-like proteins in the genome of the red flour beetle as well as in all insect species with completely sequenced genomes. The previously characterized member of this family, TcKnk, protects chitin in the newly forming cuticle (exoskeleton) from degradation by the chitinase enzyme present in the molting fluid. Knk is also required for the laminar organization of the chitin polymer in the cuticle. The two newly identified members of this family, TcKnk2 and TcKnk3, have distinctly different but related functions. They are essential for adult morphogenesis including specialized “Velcro-like” cuticular denticles found in the lateral body wall, as well as the proper development of the tracheal lining. The TcKnk3 gene gives rise to multiple transcripts as a result of alternative polyadenylation and/or splicing, but only one of these transcripts is essential for adult development.
PMCID: PMC4140639  PMID: 25144557
19.  Chitotriosidase in the Pathogenesis of Inflammation, Interstitial Lung Diseases and COPD 
As a member of 18 glycosyl hydrolase (GH) family, chitotriosidase (Chitinase 1, CHIT1) is a true chitinase mainly expressed in the differentiated and polarized macrophages. CHIT1 is an innate immune mediator that digests the cell walls of chitin-containing eukaryotic pathogens, such as fungi. However, CHIT1 is dysregulated in granulomatous and fibrotic interstitial lung diseases characterized by inflammation and tissue remodeling. These include tuberclosis, sarcoidosis, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, scleroderma-associated interstitial lung diseases (SSc-ILD), and chronic obstructive lung diseases (COPD). CHIT1 serum concentration correlates with the progression or the severity of these diseases, suggesting a potential use of CHIT1 as a biomarker or a therapeutic target. Recent studies with genetically modified mice demonstrate that CHIT1 enhances TGF-β1 receptor expression and signaling, suggesting a role in initiating or amplifying the response to organ injury and repair. This additional CHIT1 activity is independent of its enzymatic activity. These studies suggest that CHIT1 serves a bridging function; it is both an innate immune mediator and a regulator of tissue remodeling. This review will focus on recent data linking CHIT1 to the pathogenesis of inflammation, interstitial lung disease, and COPD.
PMCID: PMC4274464  PMID: 25553258
Chitotriosidase; sarcoidosis; scleroderma; idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis; inflammation; TGF-beta
20.  Human Innate Immune Responses to Hexamethylene Diisocyanate (HDI) and HDI-Albumin Conjugates 
Isocyanates, a leading cause of occupational asthma, are known to induce adaptive immune responses; however, innate immune responses, which generally precede and regulate adaptive immunity, remain largely uncharacterized.
Identify and characterize cellular, molecular and systemic innate immune responses induced by hexamethylene diisocyanate (HDI).
Human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were stimulated in vitro with HDI-albumin conjugates or control antigen, and changes in phenotype, gene, and protein expression were characterized by flow cytometry, microarray, Western blot and ELISA. Cell uptake of isocyanate was visualized microscopically using HDI-albumin conjugates prepared with fluorescently-labeled albumin. In vivo, human HDI exposure was performed via specific inhalation challenge, and subsequent changes in PBMCs and serum proteins were measured by flow cytometry and ELISA. Genotypes were determined by PCR.
Human monocytes take-up HDI-albumin conjugates and undergo marked changes in morphology and gene/protein expression in vitro. The most significant (p 0.007 – 0.05) changes in mircoarray gene expression were noted in lysosomal genes, especially peptidases and proton pumps involved in antigen processing. Chemokines that regulate monocyte/macrophage trafficking (MIF, MCP-1), and pattern recognition receptors that bind chitin (chitinases) and oxidized low-density lipoprotein (CD68) were also increased following isocyanate-albumin exposure. In vivo, HDI exposed subjects exhibited an acute increase in the percentage of PBMCs with the same HDI-albumin responsive phenotype characterized in vitro (HLA-DR+/CD11c+ with altered light scatter properties). An exposure-dependent decrease (46±11%; p<0.015) in serum concentrations of chitinase-3-like-1 was also observed, in individuals that lack the major (type 1) human chitinase (due to genetic polymorphism), but not in individuals possessing at least one functional chitinase-1 allele.
Previously unrecognized innate immune responses to HDI and HDI-albumin conjugates could influence the clinical spectrum of exposure reactions.
PMCID: PMC3131007  PMID: 18498542
Isocyanate; Innate; Monocyte; Macrophage; Chitinase; CD68; Albumin; MIF; Cathepsin; Exposure; Asthma
21.  Quantification of Chitinase mRNA Levels in Human and Mouse Tissues by Real-Time PCR: Species-Specific Expression of Acidic Mammalian Chitinase in Stomach Tissues 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e67399.
Chitinase hydrolyzes chitin, which is an N-acetyl-D-glucosamine polymer that is present in a wide range of organisms, including insects, parasites and fungi. Although mammals do not contain any endogenous chitin, humans and mice express two active chitinases, chitotriosidase (Chit1) and acidic mammalian chitinase (AMCase). Because the level of expression of these chitinases is increased in many inflammatory conditions, including Gaucher disease and mouse models of asthma, both chitinases may play important roles in the pathophysiologies of these and other diseases. We recently established a quantitative PCR system using a single standard DNA and showed that AMCase mRNA is synthesized at extraordinarily high levels in mouse stomach tissues. In this study, we applied this methodology to the quantification of chitinase mRNAs in human tissues and found that both chitinase mRNAs were widely expressed in normal human tissues. Chit1 mRNA was highly expressed in the human lung, whereas AMCase mRNA was not overexpressed in normal human stomach tissues. The levels of these mRNAs in human tissues were significantly lower than the levels of housekeeping genes. Because the AMCase expression levels were quite different between the human and mouse stomach tissues, we developed a quantitative PCR system to compare the mRNA levels between human and mouse tissues using a human-mouse hybrid standard DNA. Our analysis showed that Chit1 mRNA is expressed at similar levels in normal human and mouse lung. In contrast, the AMCase expression level in human stomach was significantly lower than that expression level observed in mouse stomach. These mRNA differences between human and mouse stomach tissues were reflecting differences in the chitinolytic activities and levels of protein expression. Thus, the expression level of the AMCase in the stomach is species-specific.
PMCID: PMC3694897  PMID: 23826286
Chitin, is a ubiquitous polysaccharide in fungi, insects and parasites. To test the hypothesis that chitin is an important immune modulator, we characterized the ability of chitin fragments to regulate murine macrophage cytokine production in vitro and induce acute inflammation in vivo. Here we show that chitin is a size-dependent stimulator of macrophage interleukin (IL)-17A production and IL-17A receptor (R) expression and demonstrate that these responses are Toll-like Receptor (TLR)-2 and MyD88-dependent. We further demonstrate that IL-17A pathway activation is an essential event in the stimulation of some but not all chitin-stimulated cytokines and that chitin utilizes a TLR-2, MyD88- and IL-17A-dependent mechanism(s) to induce acute inflammation. These studies demonstrate that chitin is a size-dependent pathogen-associated molecular pattern (PAMP) that activates TLR-2 and MyD88 in a novel IL-17A / IL-17AR-based innate immunity pathway.
PMCID: PMC2577310  PMID: 18768886
Monocytes/Macrophages; Cytokines; Inflammation; Lung; Rodent
23.  Chitinases in Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia 
Medical microbiology and immunology  2012;201(3):337-348.
Pneumocystis pneumonia remains an important complication of immune suppression. The cell wall of Pneumocystis has been demonstrated to potently stimulate host inflammatory responses, with most studies focusing on β-glucan components of the Pneumocystis cell wall. In the current study, we have elaborated the potential role of chitins and chitinases in Pneumocystis pneumonia. We demonstrated differential host mammalian chitinase expression during Pneumocystis pneumonia. We further characterized a chitin synthase gene in Pneumocystis carinii termed Pcchs5, a gene with considerable homolog to the fungal chitin biosynthesis protein Chs5. We also observed the impact of chitinase digestion on Pneumocystis-induced host inflammatory responses by measuring TNFα release and mammalian chitinase expression by cultured lung epithelial and macrophage cells stimulated with Pneumocystis cell wall isolates in the presence and absence of exogenous chitinase digestion. These findings provide evidence supporting a chitin biosynthetic pathway in Pneumocystis organisms and that chitinases modulate inflammatory responses in lung cells. We further demonstrate lung expression of chitinase molecules during Pneumocystis pneumonia.
PMCID: PMC3913163  PMID: 22535444
Pneumocystis carinii; Cell wall; Chitin; Chs5; Chitinase; Chitotriosidase; Acidic mammalian chitinase
24.  Evidence for a “Wattle and Daub” Model of the Cyst Wall of Entamoeba 
PLoS Pathogens  2009;5(7):e1000498.
The cyst wall of Entamoeba invadens (Ei), a model for the human pathogen Entamoeba histolytica, is composed of fibrils of chitin and three chitin-binding lectins called Jacob, Jessie3, and chitinase. Here we show chitin, which was detected with wheat germ agglutinin, is made in secretory vesicles prior to its deposition on the surface of encysting Ei. Jacob lectins, which have tandemly arrayed chitin-binding domains (CBDs), and chitinase, which has an N-terminal CBD, were each made early during encystation. These results are consistent with their hypothesized roles in cross-linking chitin fibrils (Jacob lectins) and remodeling the cyst wall (chitinase). Jessie3 lectins likely form the mortar or daub of the cyst wall, because 1) Jessie lectins were made late during encystation; 2) the addition to Jessie lectins to the cyst wall correlated with a marked decrease in the permeability of cysts to nucleic acid stains (DAPI) and actin-binding heptapeptide (phalloidin); and 3) recombinant Jessie lectins, expressed as a maltose-binding proteins in the periplasm of Escherichia coli, caused transformed bacteria to agglutinate in suspension and form a hard pellet that did not dissociate after centrifugation. Jessie3 appeared as linear forms and rosettes by negative staining of secreted recombinant proteins. These findings provide evidence for a “wattle and daub” model of the Entamoeba cyst wall, where the wattle or sticks (chitin fibrils likely cross-linked by Jacob lectins) is constructed prior to the addition of the mortar or daub (Jessie3 lectins).
Author Summary
Parasitic protists, which are spread by the fecal-oral route, have cyst walls that resist environmental insults (e.g. desiccation, stomach acids, bile, etc.). Entamoeba histolytica, the cause of amebic dysentery and liver abscess, is the only protist characterized to date that has chitin in its cyst wall. We have previously characterized Entamoeba chitin synthases, chitinases, and multivalent chitin-binding lectins called Jacob. Here we present evidence that the Entamoeba Jessie3 lectin contributes to the mortar or daub, which makes the cyst wall impenetrable to small molecules. First, the Jessie3 lectin was made after chitin and Jacob lectins had already been deposited onto the surface of encysting Entamoeba. Second, cysts became impenetrable to small molecules at the same time that Jessie3 was deposited into the wall. Third, recombinant Jessie3 lectins self-aggregated and caused transfected bacteria to agglutinate. These results suggest a “wattle and daub” model of the Ei cyst wall, where the wattle or sticks (chitin fibrils likely cross-linked by Jacob lectins) is constructed prior to the addition of the mortar or daub (Jessie3 lectins).
PMCID: PMC2698119  PMID: 19578434
25.  Fungal chitin from asthma-associated home environments induces eosinophilic lung infiltration 
Development of asthma and allergic inflammation involves innate immunity but the environmental contributions remain incompletely defined. Analysis of dust collected from the homes of asthmatic individuals revealed that the polysaccharide chitin is environmentally widespread, and associated with β-glucans, possibly from ubiquitous fungi. Cell wall preparations of Aspergillus isolated from house dust induced robust recruitment of eosinophils into mouse lung, an effect that was attenuated by enzymatic degradation of cell wall chitinand β-glucans. Mice expressing constitutively active acidic mammalian chitinase (AMCase) in the lungs demonstrated a significant reduction in eosinophil infiltration after fungal challenge. Conversely, chitinase inhibition prolonged the duration of tissue eosinophilia. Thus, fungal chitin derived from home environments associated with asthma induces eosinophilic allergic inflammation in the lung, and mammalian chitinases, including AMCase, limit this process.
PMCID: PMC3159725  PMID: 21824866

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