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1.  Ageing and long-term smoking affects KL-6 levels in the lung, induced sputum and plasma 
KL-6 is a high-molecular-weight glycoprotein classified as a human MUC1 mucin. It was hypothesized that KL-6 could be detectable in the circulating blood and especially in airway secretions in lung diseases associated with mucus production such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Additional aims of this study were to investigate whether the levels of KL-6 in plasma and sputum are related to ageing and smoking history.
The concentrations of KL-6 in plasma and induced sputum supernatants from young and/or middle aged/elderly non-smokers, smokers and patients with COPD were assayed by ELISA (n = 201). The subjects were classified into five groups according to age, smoking status and presence of COPD. In addition, KL-6 expression in control and diseased lung i.e. samples from patients with COPD (n = 28), were analyzed by immunohistochemistry and digital image analysis.
The plasma levels of KL-6 increased with age both in non-smokers and smokers. Among middle aged/elderly subjects, plasma KL-6 levels in all smokers regardless of COPD were significantly higher than in non-smokers, whereas sputum levels of KL-6 were significantly higher in COPD compared not only to non-smokers but also to smokers. KL-6 was more prominently expressed in the bronchiolar/alveolar epithelium in COPD than in the control lungs. Plasma and sputum KL-6 levels correlated inversely with obstruction and positively with smoking history and ageing. The linear multiple regression analysis confirmed that age and cigarette smoking had independent effects on plasma KL-6.
KL-6 increases with ageing and chronic smoking history, but prospective studies will be needed to elucidate the significance of KL-6 in chronic airway diseases.
PMCID: PMC3114798  PMID: 21569324
2.  Differential regulation of Streptococcus pneumoniae-induced human MUC5AC mucin expression through distinct MAPK pathways 
Human epithelial mucin, the major glycoprotein component of mucus, plays a critical role in host innate defense response against invading microbes by facilitating the mucociliary clearance. Excess mucin production, however, overwhelms the mucociliary clearance, resulting in not only defective mucosal defense but also conductive hearing loss in the middle ear and mucus obstruction in the airway. Indeed, mucus overproduction is a hall-mark of otitis media (OM) and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD). Thus, tight regulation of mucin production plays an important role in maintaining an appropriate balance between beneficial and detrimental outcomes. We previously reported that Streptococcus pneumoniae (S. pneumoniae) up-regulates MUC5AC mucin expression via a positive MAPK ERK1/2 and a negative JNK1/2 signaling pathway. However, the signaling components including the up-stream activators and the down-stream transcription factors involved in these two path-ways remain largely unknown. In the present study, we showed that positive regulation of MUC5AC mucin expression by ERK1/2 is dependent on Ras-Raf-1 signaling pathway, whereas the negative regulation of MUC5AC expression by JNK1/2 is dependent on MEKK3. Moreover, transcriptional factor AP-1 acts as a key regulator for both of the positive and negative regulation of MUC5AC mucin expression as evidenced by mutagenesis analysis of two AP-1 sites in the promoter region of human MUC5AC mucin gene. Ras-Raf1-ERK1/2-dependent AP-1 activation positively regulates MUC5AC mucin induction by S. pneumoniae, whereas MEKK3-JNK1/2-dependent AP-1 activation negatively regulates it. Therefore, our data unveiled a novel signaling mechanism underlying the tight regulation of MUC5AC mucin induction by S. pneumoniae and may lead to the development of new therapeutic strategy for reducing mucus overproduction in both OM and COPD.
PMCID: PMC2776328  PMID: 19956440
MUC5AC mucin; streptococcus pneumonia; ERK; JNK; AP-1; otitis media; COPD
3.  Differential Muc2 and Muc5ac secretion by stimulated guinea pig tracheal epithelial cells in vitro 
Respiratory Research  2006;7(1):35.
Mucus overproduction is a characteristic of inflammatory pulmonary diseases including asthma, chronic bronchitis, and cystic fibrosis. Expression of two mucin genes, MUC2 and MUC5AC, and their protein products (mucins), is modulated in certain disease states. Understanding the signaling mechanisms that regulate the production and secretion of these major mucus components may contribute significantly to development of effective therapies to modify their expression in inflamed airways.
To study the differential expression of Muc2 and Muc5ac, a novel monoclonal antibody recognizing guinea pig Muc2 and a commercially-available antibody against human MUC5AC were optimized for recognition of specific guinea pig mucins by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), Western blot, and immunohistochemistry (IHC). These antibodies were then used to analyze expression of Muc2 and another mucin subtype (likely Muc5ac) in guinea pig tracheal epithelial (GPTE) cells stimulated with a mixture of pro-inflammatory cytokines [tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), interleukin 1β (IL-1β), and interferon- γ (IFN-γ)].
The anti-Muc2 (C4) and anti-MUC5AC (45M1) monoclonal antibodies specifically recognized proteins located in Muc2-dominant small intestinal and Muc5ac-dominant stomach mucosae, respectively, in both Western and ELISA experimental protocols. IHC protocols confirmed that C4 recognizes murine small intestine mucosal proteins while 45M1 does not react. C4 and 45M1 also stained specific epithelial cells in guinea pig lung sections. In the resting state, Muc2 was recognized as a highly expressed intracellular mucin in GPTE cells in vitro. Following cytokine exposure, secretion of Muc2, but not the mucin recognized by the 45M1 antibody (likely Muc5ac), was increased from the GPTE cells, with a concomitant increase in intracellular expression of both mucins.
Given the tissue specificity in IHC and the differential hybridization to high molecular weight proteins by Western blot, we conclude that the antibodies used in this study can recognize specific mucin subtypes in guinea pig airway epithelium and in proteins from GPTE cells. In addition, Muc2 is highly expressed constitutively, modulated by inflammation, and secreted differentially (as compared to Muc5ac) in GPTE cells. This finding contrasts with expression patterns in the airway epithelium of a variety of mammalian species in which only Muc5ac predominates.
PMCID: PMC1484480  PMID: 16504136
4.  Expression of ErbB receptors and mucins in the airways of long term current smokers 
Thorax  2004;59(12):1032-1040.
Background: Airway epithelial goblet cell hyperplasia is known to occur in chronic smokers. Although the epidermal growth factor receptor has been implicated in this process, neither ErbB receptor expression nor the mucosecretory phenotype of the epithelium have been characterised in current smokers.
Methods: Bronchial biopsies obtained from non-smokers (n = 10) and current smokers, with or without chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (n = 51), were examined immunohistochemically to measure the expression of epidermal growth factor receptor, ErbB2, ErbB3, ErbB4 and mucin subtypes (MUC2, MUC5AC and MUC5B) in the bronchial epithelium. The results were correlated with neutrophil counts measured in the airway wall and induced sputum.
Results: Epidermal growth factor receptor, ErbB3 and MUC5AC expression, in addition to PAS staining, were significantly increased in all smokers compared with non-smokers, irrespective of the presence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. MUC5AC expression was significantly associated with both PAS staining and ErbB3 expression; no correlation was observed between either mucin or ErbB receptor expression and neutrophil counts.
Conclusions: The results suggest that long term current smoking induces enhanced epidermal growth factor receptor, ErbB3, and MUC5AC expression in vivo; these increases are not associated with the presence of neutrophilic inflammation. ErbB receptors may contribute to epithelial responses to cigarette smoke.
PMCID: PMC1746902  PMID: 15563701
5.  Wood Smoke Exposure and Gene Promoter Methylation Are Associated with Increased Risk for COPD in Smokers 
Rationale: Wood smoke–associated chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is common in women in developing countries but has not been adequately described in developed countries.
Objectives: Our objective was to determine whether wood smoke exposure was a risk factor for COPD in a population of smokers in the United States and whether aberrant gene promoter methylation in sputum may modify this association.
Methods: For this cross-sectional study, 1,827 subjects were drawn from the Lovelace Smokers' Cohort, a predominantly female cohort of smokers. Wood smoke exposure was self-reported. Postbronchodilator spirometry was obtained, and COPD outcomes studied included percent predicted FEV1, airflow obstruction, and chronic bronchitis. Effect modification of wood smoke exposure with current cigarette smoke, ethnicity, sex, and promoter methylation of lung cancer-related genes in sputum on COPD outcomes were separately explored. Multivariable logistic and poisson regression models were used for binary and rate-based outcomes, respectively.
Measurements and Main Results: Self-reported wood smoke exposure was independently associated with a lower percent predicted FEV1 (point estimate [± SE] −0.03 ± 0.01) and a higher prevalence of airflow obstruction and chronic bronchitis (odds ratio, 1.96; 95% confidence interval, 1.52–2.52 and 1.64 (95% confidence interval, 1.31–2.06, respectively). These associations were stronger among current cigarette smokers, non-Hispanic whites, and men. Wood smoke exposure interacted in a multiplicative manner with aberrant promoter methylation of the p16 or GATA4 genes on lower percent predicted FEV1.
Conclusions: These studies identify a novel link between wood smoke exposure and gene promoter methylation that synergistically increases the risk for reduced lung function in cigarette smokers.
PMCID: PMC3001253  PMID: 20595226
wood smoke; cigarette smokers; airflow obstruction; gene promoter methylation in sputum DNA
6.  Decreased expression of TGF-ß type II receptor in bronchial glands of smokers with COPD 
Thorax  2005;60(12):998-1002.
Background: The role of transforming growth factor-ß1 (TGF-ß1) in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is still controversial, but it has been proposed that it may protect from mucus hypersecretion since it is able to downregulate mucin production. A study was undertaken to investigate the expression of TGF-ß1 and its type II receptor (TGF-ß RII) in the bronchial glands of smokers with COPD.
Methods: The expression of TGF-ß1 and TGF-ß RII were examined immunohistochemically in the bronchial glands of 24 smokers undergoing lung resection for solitary peripheral nodules: 12 with airflow limitation (smokers with COPD) and 12 with normal lung function.
Results: The expression of TGF-ß1 in bronchial glands was similar in the two groups of subjects while that of TGF-ß RII was lower in smokers with COPD than in smokers with normal lung function (p = 0.004). TGF-ß RII expression was inversely correlated with the values of Reid's index, a measure of gland size (p = 0.02, r = –0.50).
Conclusions: In the bronchial glands of smokers with COPD there is decreased expression of TGF-ß RII which is associated with bronchial gland enlargement. These findings support the view that the absence of TGF-ß signalling may induce structural changes in the bronchial glands which, in turn, may promote mucus hypersecretion.
PMCID: PMC1747268  PMID: 16227324
7.  Phosphodiesterase 4 inhibition decreases MUC5AC expression induced by epidermal growth factor in human airway epithelial cells 
Thorax  2005;60(2):144-152.
Background: A common pathological feature of chronic inflammatory airway diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is mucus hypersecretion. MUC5AC is the predominant mucin gene expressed in healthy airways and is increased in asthmatic and COPD patients. Recent clinical trials indicate that phosphodiesterase type 4 (PDE4) inhibitors may have therapeutic value for COPD and asthma. However, their direct effects on mucin expression have been scarcely investigated.
Methods: MUC5AC mRNA and protein expression were examined in cultured human airway epithelial cells (A549) and in human isolated bronchial tissue stimulated with epidermal growth factor (EGF; 25 ng/ml). MUC5AC mRNA was measured by real time RT-PCR and MUC5AC protein by ELISA (cell lysates and tissue homogenates), Western blotting (tissue homogenates) and immunohistochemistry.
Results: EGF increased MUC5AC mRNA and protein expression in A549 cells. PDE4 inhibitors produced a concentration dependent inhibition of the EGF induced MUC5AC mRNA and protein expression with potency values (–log IC50): roflumilast (∼7.5) > rolipram (∼6.5) > cilomilast (∼5.5). Roflumilast also inhibited the EGF induced expression of phosphotyrosine proteins, EGF receptor, and phospho-p38- and p44/42-MAPK measured by Western blot analysis in A549 cells. In human isolated bronchus, EGF induced MUC5AC mRNA and protein expression was inhibited by roflumilast (1 µM) as well as the MUC5AC positive staining shown by immunohistochemistry.
Conclusion: Selective PDE4 inhibition is effective in decreasing EGF induced MUC5AC expression in human airway epithelial cells. This effect may contribute to the clinical efficacy of this new drug category in mucus hypersecretory diseases.
PMCID: PMC1747298  PMID: 15681504
8.  Assessment of airway inflammation using sputum, BAL, and endobronchial biopsies in current and ex-smokers with established COPD 
Smoking effects on physiological and gross pathology in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are relatively well described. However, there is little known in COPD about the detailed interrelationships between lung function and inflammatory profiles in different airway compartments from the same individual and whether airway inflammation in these different compartments differs in ex- and current smokers with established COPD.
We compared sputum, bronchoalveolar (BAL), and airway wall inflammatory profiles in current versus ex-smokers and related this to smoking intensity and lung function in 17 current and 17 ex-smokers with mild to moderate COPD.
Current smokers had more sputum mast cells (% differential and absolute numbers), whereas ex-smokers had increased sputum neutrophils. In BAL, there was a significant increase in eosinophils in current smokers, but ex-smokers had significantly increased neutrophils, lymphocytes, and epithelial cells. There were no cell profile differences observed in airway biopsies between current and ex-smokers and there were no correlations between the individual inflammatory cell populations in any of the airway compartments. In current smokers only, smoking intensity was negatively correlated with lung function, and associated with a reduction in overall cellularity of both sputum and BAL.
Airway inflammation persists in ex-smokers with COPD, but differs from COPD current smokers. The impact of smoking appears to vary in different airway compartments and any direct relationships between cellularity and lung function tended to be negative, ie, worse lung function indicated the presence of fewer cells.
PMCID: PMC2962298  PMID: 21037956
current smokers; ex-smokers; airway cellularity; sputum; BAL; endobronchial biopsies
9.  Gender Differences in Plasma Biomarker Levels in a Cohort of COPD Patients: A Pilot Study 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(1):e16021.
Little is known about gender differences in plasma biomarker levels in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
There are differences in serum biomarker levels between women and men with COPD.
Explore gender differences in plasma biomarker levels in patients with COPD and smokers without COPD.
We measured plasma levels of IL-6, IL-8, IL-16, MCP-1, MMP-9, PARC and VEGF in 80 smokers without COPD (40 males, 40 females) and 152 stable COPD patients (76 males, 76 females) with similar airflow obstruction. We determined anthropometrics, smoking history, lung function, exercise tolerance, body composition, BODE index, co-morbidities and quality of life. We then explored associations between plasma biomarkers levels and the clinical characteristics of the patients and also with the clinical and physiological variables known to predict outcome in COPD.
The plasma biomarkers level explored were similar in men and women without COPD. In contrast, in patients with COPD the median value in pg/mL of IL-6 (6.26 vs 8.0, p = 0.03), IL-16 (390 vs 321, p = 0.009) and VEGF (50 vs 87, p = 0.02) differed between women and men. Adjusted for smoking history, gender was independently associated with IL-16, PARC and VEGF levels. There were also gender differences in the associations between IL-6, IL-16 and VEGF and physiologic variables that predict outcomes.
In stable COPD patients with similar airflow obstruction, there are gender differences in plasma biomarker levels and in the association between biomarker levels and important clinical or physiological variables. Further studies should confirm our findings.
PMCID: PMC3022655  PMID: 21267454
10.  Respiratory Syncytial Virus Inhibits Ciliagenesis in Differentiated Normal Human Bronchial Epithelial Cells: Effectiveness of N-Acetylcysteine 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e48037.
Persistent respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections have been associated with the exacerbation of chronic inflammatory diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This virus infects the respiratory epithelium, leading to chronic inflammation, and induces the release of mucins and the loss of cilia activity, two factors that determine mucus clearance and the increase in sputum volume. These alterations involve reactive oxygen species-dependent mechanisms. The antioxidant N-acetylcysteine (NAC) has proven useful in the management of COPD, reducing symptoms, exacerbations, and accelerated lung function decline. NAC inhibits RSV infection and mucin release in human A549 cells. The main objective of this study was to analyze the effects of NAC in modulating ciliary activity, ciliagenesis, and metaplasia in primary normal human bronchial epithelial cell (NHBEC) cultures infected with RSV. Our results indicated that RSV induced ultrastructural abnormalities in axonemal basal bodies and decreased the expression of β-tubulin as well as two genes involved in ciliagenesis, FOXJ1 and DNAI2. These alterations led to a decrease in ciliary activity. Furthermore, RSV induced metaplastic changes to the epithelium and increased the number of goblet cells and the expression of MUC5AC and GOB5. NAC restored the normal functions of the epithelium, inhibiting ICAM1 expression, subsequent RSV infection through mechanisms involving nuclear receptor factor 2, and the expression of heme oxygenase 1, which correlated with the restoration of the antioxidant capacity, the intracellular H2O2 levels and glutathione content of NHBECs. The results presented in this study support the therapeutic use of NAC for the management of chronic respiratory diseases, including COPD.
PMCID: PMC3485262  PMID: 23118923
11.  Central Role of Muc5ac Expression in Mucous Metaplasia and Its Regulation by Conserved 5′ Elements 
Mucus hypersecretion contributes to morbidity and mortality in many obstructive lung diseases. Gel-forming mucins are the chief glycoprotein components of airway mucus, and elevated expression of these during mucous metaplasia precedes the hypersecretory phenotype. Five orthologous genes (MUC2, MUC5AC, MUC5B, MUC6, and MUC19) encode the mammalian gel-forming mucin family, and several have been implicated in asthma, cystic fibrosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease pathologies. However, in the absence of a comprehensive analysis, their relative contributions remain unclear. Here, we assess the expression of the entire gel-forming mucin gene family in allergic mouse airways and show that Muc5ac is the predominant gel-forming mucin induced. We previously showed that the induction of mucous metaplasia in ovalbumin-sensitized and -challenged mouse lungs occurs within bronchial Clara cells. The temporal induction and localization of Muc5ac transcripts correlate with the induced expression and localization of mucin glycoproteins in bronchial airways. To better understand the tight regulation of Muc5ac expression, we analyzed all available 5′-flanking sequences of mammalian MUC5AC orthologs and identified evolutionarily conserved regions within domains proximal to the mRNA coding region. Analysis of luciferase reporter gene activity in a mouse transformed Clara cell line demonstrates that this region possesses strong promoter activity and harbors multiple conserved transcription factor–binding motifs. In particular, SMAD4 and HIF-1α bind to the promoter, and mutation of their recognition motifs abolishes promoter function. In conclusion, Muc5ac expression is the central event in antigen-induced mucous metaplasia, and phylogenetically conserved 5′ noncoding domains control its regulation.
PMCID: PMC1994232  PMID: 17463395
mucin; metaplasia; airway; lung; epithelium
12.  AGR2 Is Induced in Asthma and Promotes Allergen-Induced Mucin Overproduction 
Mucins are gel-forming proteins that are responsible for the characteristic viscoelastic properties of mucus. Mucin overproduction is a hallmark of asthma, but the cellular requirements for airway mucin production are poorly understood. The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) protein anterior gradient homolog 2 (AGR2) is required for production of the intestinal mucin MUC2, but its role in the production of the airway mucins MUC5AC and MUC5B is not established. Microarray data were analyzed to examine the relationship between AGR2 and MUC5AC expression in asthma. Immunofluorescence was used to localize AGR2 in airway cells. Coimmunoprecipitation was used to identify AGR2-immature MUC5AC complexes. Agr2−/− mice were used to determine the role of AGR2 in allergic airway disease. AGR2 localized to the ER of MUC5AC- and MUC5B-producing airway cells and formed a complex with immature MUC5AC. AGR2 expression increased together with MUC5AC expression in airway epithelium from “Th2-high” asthmatics. Allergen-challenged Agr2−/− mice had greater than 50% reductions in MUC5AC and MUC5B proteins compared with allergen-challenged wild-type mice. Impaired mucin production in Agr2−/− mice was accompanied by an increase in the proportion of mucins contained within the ER and by evidence of ER stress in airway epithelium. This study shows that AGR2 increases with mucin overproduction in individuals with asthma and in mouse models of allergic airway disease. AGR2 interacts with immature mucin in the ER and loss of AGR2 impairs allergen-induced MUC5AC and MUC5B overproduction.
PMCID: PMC3423459  PMID: 22403803
asthma; airway epithelium; mucus; endoplasmic reticulum stress; protein disulfide isomerase
13.  Increased oxidative stress in asymptomatic current chronic smokers and GOLD stage 0 COPD 
Respiratory Research  2006;7(1):69.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is associated with increased oxidative and nitrosative stress. The aim of our study was to assess the importance of these factors in the airways of healthy smokers and symptomatic smokers without airway obstruction, i.e. individuals with GOLD stage 0 COPD.
Exhaled NO (FENO) and induced sputum samples were collected from 22 current smokers (13 healthy smokers without any respiratory symptoms and 9 with symptoms i.e. stage 0 COPD) and 22 healthy age-matched non-smokers (11 never smokers and 11 ex-smokers). Sputum cell differential counts, and expressions of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS), myeloperoxidase (MPO), nitrotyrosine and 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal (4-HNE) were analysed from cytospins by immunocytochemistry. Eosinophil cationic protein (ECP) and lactoferrin were measured from sputum supernatants by ELISA.
FENO was significantly decreased in smokers, mean (SD) 11.0 (6.7) ppb, compared to non-smokers, 22.9 (10.0), p < 0.0001. Induced sputum showed increased levels of neutrophils (p = 0.01) and elevated numbers of iNOS (p = 0.004), MPO (p = 0.003), nitrotyrosine (p = 0.003), and 4-HNE (p = 0.03) positive cells in smokers when compared to non-smokers. Sputum lactoferrin levels were also higher in smokers than in non-smokers (p = 0.02). Furthermore, we noted four negative correlations between FENO and 1) total neutrophils (r = -0.367, p = 0.02), 2) positive cells for iNOS (r = -0.503, p = 0.005), 3) MPO (r = -0.547, p = 0.008), and 4) nitrotyrosine (r = -0.424, p = 0.03). However, no major differences were found between never smokers and ex-smokers or between healthy smokers and stage 0 COPD patients.
Our results clearly indicate that several markers of oxidative/nitrosative stress are increased in current cigarette smokers compared to non-smokers and no major differences can be observed in these biomarkers between non-symptomatic smokers and subjects with GOLD stage 0 COPD.
PMCID: PMC1524947  PMID: 16646959
14.  Genes associated with MUC5AC expression in small airway epithelium of human smokers and non-smokers 
BMC Medical Genomics  2012;5:21.
Mucus hypersecretion contributes to the morbidity and mortality of smoking-related lung diseases, especially chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which starts in the small airways. Despite progress in animal studies, the genes and their expression pattern involved in mucus production and secretion in human airway epithelium are not well understood. We hypothesized that comparison of the transcriptomes of the small airway epithelium of individuals that express high vs low levels of MUC5AC, the major macromolecular component of airway mucus, could be used as a probe to identify the genes related to human small airway mucus production/secretion.
Flexible bronchoscopy and brushing were used to obtain small airway epithelium (10th to 12th order bronchi) from healthy nonsmokers (n=60) and healthy smokers (n=72). Affymetrix HG-U133 plus 2.0 microarrays were used to assess gene expression. Massive parallel sequencing (RNA-Seq) was used to verify gene expression of small airway epithelium from 5 nonsmokers and 6 smokers.
MUC5AC expression varied 31-fold among the healthy nonsmokers. Genome-wide comparison between healthy nonsmokers (n = 60) grouped as “high MUC5AC expressors” vs “low MUC5AC expressors” identified 528 genes significantly up-regulated and 15 genes significantly down-regulated in the high vs low expressors. This strategy identified both mucus production and secretion related genes under control of a network composed of multiple transcription factors. Based on the literature, genes in the up-regulated list were used to identify a 73 “MUC5AC-associated core gene” list with 9 categories: mucus component; mucus-producing cell differentiation-related transcription factor; mucus-producing cell differentiation-related pathway or mediator; post-translational modification of mucin; vesicle transport; endoplasmic reticulum stress-related; secretory granule-associated; mucus secretion-related regulator and mucus hypersecretory-related ion channel. As a validation cohort, we assessed the MUC5AC-associated core gene list in the small airway epithelium of an independent set of healthy smokers (n = 72). There was up-regulation of MUC5AC in the small airway epithelium of smokers (2.3-fold, p < 10-8) associated with a coordinated up-regulation of MUC5AC-associated core gene expression pattern in the small airway epithelium of smokers (p < 0.01). Deep sequencing confirmed these observations.
The identification of the genes associated with increased airway mucin production in humans should be useful in understanding the pathogenesis of airway mucus hypersecretion and identifying therapeutic targets.
Author summary
Mucus hypersecretion contributes to the morbidity and mortality of smoking-related lung diseases, especially chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which starts in the small airways. Little is known about the gene networks associated with the synthesis and secretion of mucins in the human small airway epithelium. Taking advantage of the knowledge that MUC5AC is a major mucin secreted by the small airway epithelium, the expression of MUC5AC in small airway epithelium is highly regulated at the transcriptional level and our observation that healthy nonsmokers have variable numbers of MUC5AC+ secretory cells in the human small airway epithelium, we compared genome-wide gene expression of the small airway epithelium of high vs low MUC5AC expressors from 60 nonsmokers to identify the genes associated with MUC5AC expression. This novel strategy enabled identification of a 73 “MUC5AC-associated core gene” list with 9 categories, which control a series of processes from mucin biosynthesis to mucus secretion. The coordinated gene expression pattern of MUC5AC-associated core genes were corroborated in an independent cohort of 72 healthy smokers. Deep sequencing of small airway epithelium RNA confirmed these observations. This finding will be useful in identifying therapeutic targets to treat small airway mucus hypersecretion.
PMCID: PMC3443416  PMID: 22676183
15.  Rhinovirus-Induced Major Airway Mucin Production Involves a Novel TLR3-EGFR–Dependent Pathway 
Mucociliary clearance is a critical innate defense system responsible for clearing up invading pathogens including bacteria and virus. Although the right amount of mucus is good, excessive mucus causes airway obstruction and tends to precipitate disease symptoms. Rhinovirus (RV) is a common cold virus that causes asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbation. Mucus overproduction has been linked to the pathogenesis of RV-induced diseases and disease exacerbations. However, the molecular mechanism is not clear. In this study, using one of the major airway mucin-MUC5AC as marker, we found that both major and minor groups of RV induced mucin production in primary human epithelial cells and cell line. RV1A (a minor group of RV) could induce mucous cell metaplasia in vivo. Viral replication was needed for RV-induced mucin expression, and this induction was also dependent on TLR3, suggesting the involvement of double-stranded (ds) RNA signaling. Indeed, dsRNA alone could also induce mucin expression. TLR3-mediated mucin induction was negatively regulated by MyD88, and only partially dependent on TRIF, which suggests a departure from well-documented TLR3 signaling paradigm that mediates inflammatory and other innate defense gene inductions. In addition, TLR3 signaling activated epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) through inductions of the expression of EGFR ligands (transforming growth factor-α and amphiregulin), which in turn activated EGFR-ERK signaling and mucin expression through an autocrine/paracrine loop. This novel coupling of antiviral defense machinery (i.e., TLR3) and major epithelial proliferation/repair pathway (i.e., EGFR) might play an important role in viral-induced airway remodeling and airway disease exacerbation.
PMCID: PMC2677440  PMID: 18978302
mucin; airway epithelium; TLR3; rhinovirus
16.  Cystic fibrosis mice lacking Muc1 have reduced amounts of intestinal mucus. 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  1998;102(10):1798-1806.
Normally a thin layer of mucus covers the surface of the gastrointestinal tract protecting the epithelial cells from their environment. In cystic fibrosis (CF), mucus accumulation is abnormally high, resulting in severe intestinal obstruction. The major structural components of mucus are large mucin glycoproteins. We determined specific mucin RNA and protein expression in the gastrointestinal tract of inbred CF transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) knockout (CF) mice and correlated expression with histological analyses of tissues. Mucins were detected histochemically using general carbohydrate stains and specific mucin antibodies. Mucin RNA levels were determined by reverse transcription-PCR. Comparisons were made between CF mice and control siblings, all maintained on a liquid diet after weaning. Analyses of the mucins Muc2, Muc3, and Muc5ac showed lower levels of RNA expression in the CF mice and similar levels of protein. Significantly, there was a sixfold increase in Muc1 RNA expression in the colon of the CF mouse and a moderate increase in Muc1 protein. Further, CF mice lacking Muc1 exhibited greatly diminished intestinal mucus obstruction when compared with Muc1- expressing CF mice and had better survival on solid food. We suggest that Muc1 plays an important role in the mucus obstructions observed in the gastrointestinal tract of the CFTR knockout mouse.
PMCID: PMC509129  PMID: 9819365
17.  Helicobacter pylori Infection Impairs the Mucin Production Rate and Turnover in the Murine Gastric Mucosa 
Infection and Immunity  2013;81(3):829-837.
To protect the surface of the stomach, the epithelial cells secrete a mucus layer, which is mainly comprised of the MUC5AC mucin. Further protection is provided by a thick glycocalyx on the apical surface of the epithelial cell, with the cell surface mucin MUC1 as a major component. Here, we investigate the production rate and turnover of newly synthesized mucin in mice and analyze the effects of early colonization and chronic infection with H. pylori. Metabolic incorporation of an azido GalNAc analog (GalNAz) was used as a nonradioactive method to perform pulse experiments in the whole animal. First, the subcellular movement of newly synthesized mucin and mucin turnover was determined in uninfected mice. Based on the time line for mucin transport and dissemination, 2, 6, and 12 h after GalNAz injection was selected to collect the stomachs from mice infected with H. pylori strain SS1 during early colonization (7 days) and chronic infection (90 days). The results demonstrated that the speed from the start of glycosylation to the final destination is faster for the membrane-bound mucin to reach the glycocalyx (2 h) than for the secretory mucins to become secreted into the mucus layer (5 h). Furthermore, infection with H. pylori reduces the rate of mucin turnover and decreases the levels of Muc1. Since H. pylori colonizes this mucus niche, the decreased turnover rate indicates that H. pylori creates a more stable and favorable environment for itself by impairing the defense mechanism for clearing the mucosal surface of pathogens by mucus flow.
PMCID: PMC3584886  PMID: 23275091
18.  Matrix Metalloproteinase-14 Mediates a Phenotypic Shift in the Airways to Increase Mucin Production 
Rationale: Induced mainly by cigarette smoking, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a global public health problem characterized by progressive difficulty in breathing and increased mucin production. Previously, we reported that acrolein levels found in COPD sputum could activate matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP9).
Objectives: To determine whether acrolein increases expression and activity of MMP14, a critical membrane-bound endopeptidase that can initial a MMP-activation cascade.
Methods: MMP14 activity and adduct formation were measured following direct acrolein treatment. MMP14 expression and activity was measured in human airway epithelial cells. MMP14 immunohistochemistry was performed with COPD tissue, and in acrolein- or tobacco-exposed mice.
Measurements and Main Results: In a cell-free system, acrolein, in concentrations equal to those found in COPD sputum, directly adducted cysteine 319 in the MMP14 hemopexin-like domain and activated MMP14. In cells, acrolein increased MMP14 activity, which was inhibited by a proprotein convertase inhibitor, hexa-d-arginine. In the airway epithelium of COPD subjects, immunoreactive MMP14 protein increased. In mouse lung, acrolein or tobacco smoke increased lung MMP14 activity and protein. In cells, acrolein-induced MMP14 transcripts were inhibited by an epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) neutralizing antibody, EGFR kinase inhibitor, metalloproteinase inhibitor, or mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) 3/2 or MAPK8 inhibitors, but not a MAPK14 inhibitor. Decreasing the MMP14 protein and activity in vitro by small interfering (si)RNA to MMP14 diminished the acrolein-induced MUC5AC transcripts. In acrolein-exposed mice or transgenic mice with lung-specific transforming growth factor-α (an EGFR ligand) expression, lung MMP14 and MUC5AC levels increased and these effects were inhibited by a EGFR inhibitor, erlotinib.
Conclusions: Taken together, these findings implicate acrolein-induced MMP14 expression and activity in mucin production in COPD.
PMCID: PMC2773913  PMID: 19661247
cigarette smoke; acrolein; erlotinib; mucous cell metaplasia; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
19.  Association between markers of emphysema and more severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 
Thorax  2006;61(12):1037-1042.
The predominant emphysema phenotype is associated with more severe airflow limitation in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A study was undertaken to investigate whether COPD patients, with or without emphysema quantitatively confirmed by high resolution computed tomography (HRCT), have different COPD severity as assessed by the BODE index (body mass index, airflow obstruction, dyspnoea, exercise performance) and inspiratory capacity to total lung capacity ratio (IC/TLC), and by different biological markers of lung parenchymal destruction.
Twenty six outpatients with COPD and eight healthy non‐smokers were examined. Each subject underwent HRCT scanning, pulmonary function tests, cell counts, and measurements of neutrophil elastase, matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)‐9 and tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase (TIMP)‐1 in induced sputum, as well as measurement of desmosine, a marker of elastin degradation in urine, plasma and sputum.
Patients with HRCT confirmed emphysema had a higher BODE index and lower IC/TLC ratio than subjects without HRCT confirmed emphysema and controls. Forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1), FEV1/forced vital capacity ratio, and carbon monoxide transfer coefficient were lower, whereas the number of eosinophils, MMP‐9, and the MMP‐9/TIMP‐1 ratio in sputum were higher in patients with emphysema. In COPD patients the number of sputum eosinophils was the biological variable that correlated positively with the HRCT score of emphysema (p = 0.04).
These results suggest that COPD associated with HRCT confirmed emphysema is characterised by more severe lung function impairment, more intense airway inflammation and, possibly, more serious systemic dysfunction than COPD not associated with HRCT confirmed emphysema.
PMCID: PMC2117071  PMID: 16769715
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; emphysema; biological markers; outcomes
20.  Elevated MMP‐12 protein levels in induced sputum from patients with COPD 
Thorax  2005;61(3):196-201.
Several matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are involved in the pathogenesis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In mice, MMP‐12 plays a crucial role in the development of cigarette smoke induced emphysema. A study was undertaken to investigate the role of MMP‐12 in the development of COPD in human smokers.
Induced sputum samples were collected from patients with stable COPD (n = 28), healthy smokers (n = 14), never smokers (n = 20), and former smokers (n = 14). MMP‐12 protein levels in induced sputum were determined by ELISA and compared between the four study groups. MMP‐12 enzymatic activity in induced sputum was evaluated by casein zymography and by cleaving of a fluorescence quenched substrate.
Median (IQR) MMP‐12 levels were significantly higher in COPD patients than in healthy smokers, never smokers, and former smokers (17.5 (7.1–42.1) v 6.7 (3.9–10.4) v 4.2 (2.4–11.3) v 6.1 (4.5–7.6) ng/ml, p = 0.0002). MMP‐12 enzymatic activity was significantly higher in patients with COPD than in controls (4.11 (1.4–8.0) v 0.14 (0.1–0.2) μg/μl, p = 0.0002).
MMP‐12 is markedly increased in induced sputum from patients with stable COPD compared with controls, suggesting a role for MMP‐12 in the development of COPD in smokers.
PMCID: PMC2080750  PMID: 16308335
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; matrix metalloproteinases; induced sputum; MMP‐12; smoking
21.  Concise Review: Clinical Prospects for Treating Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease with Regenerative Approaches 
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is characterized by a progressive and not fully reversible airflow limitation caused by chronic small airway disease and lung parenchymal destruction. Clinically available drugs improve airflow obstruction and respiratory symptoms but cannot cure the disease. Recently, a method for the direct isolation of individual cell types from human lung has been developed, and fingerprints of each cell type in COPD lungs can be analyzed. Research using this technique combined with the recently discovered lung endogenous stem-progenitor populations will give a better understanding about the fate of COPD lung cells and provide a future for cell-based therapy to treat this intractable disease.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is becoming a major cause of death worldwide. COPD is characterized by a progressive and not fully reversible airflow limitation caused by chronic small airway disease and lung parenchymal destruction. Clinically available drugs improve airflow obstruction and respiratory symptoms but cannot cure the disease. Slowing the progressive lung destruction or rebuilding the destroyed lung structure is a promising strategy to cure COPD. In contrast to small animal models, pharmacological lung regeneration is difficult in human COPD. Maturation, aging, and senescence in COPD lung cells, including endogenous stem cells, may affect the regenerative capacity following pharmacological therapy. The lung is a complex organ composed of more than 40 different cell types; therefore, detailed analyses, such as epigenetic modification analysis, in each specific cell type have not been performed in lungs with COPD. Recently, a method for the direct isolation of individual cell types from human lung has been developed, and fingerprints of each cell type in COPD lungs can be analyzed. Research using this technique combined with the recently discovered lung endogenous stem-progenitor populations will give a better understanding about the fate of COPD lung cells and provide a future for cell-based therapy to treat this intractable disease.
PMCID: PMC3659729  PMID: 23197868
Lung; Respiratory tract; Stem cell; Clinical trials; Adult stem cells; Cellular therapy
22.  Influence of Age, Past Smoking, and Disease Severity on TLR2, Neutrophilic Inflammation, and MMP-9 Levels in COPD 
Mediators of Inflammation  2013;2013:462934.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a common and serious respiratory disease, particularly in older individuals, characterised by fixed airway obstruction and persistent airway neutrophilia. The mechanisms that lead to these features are not well established. We investigated the contribution of age, prior smoking, and fixed airflow obstruction on sputum neutrophils, TLR2 expression, and markers of neutrophilic inflammation. Induced sputum from adults with COPD (n = 69) and healthy controls (n = 51) was examined. A sputum portion was dispersed, total, differential cell count and viability recorded, and supernatant assayed for CXCL8, matrix metalloproteinase- (MMP-) 9, neutrophil elastase, and soluble TLR2. Peripheral blood cells (n = 7) were stimulated and TLR2 activation examined. TLR2 levels were increased with ageing, while sputum neutrophils and total sputum MMP-9 levels increased with age, previous smoking, and COPD. In multivariate regression, TLR2 gene expression and MMP-9 levels were significant independent contributors to the proportion of sputum neutrophils after adjustment for age, prior smoking, and the presence of airflow obstruction. TLR2 stimulation led to enhanced release of MMP-9 from peripheral blood granulocytes. TLR2 stimulation activates neutrophils for MMP-9 release. Efforts to understand the mechanisms of TLR2 signalling and subsequent MMP-9 production in COPD may assist in understanding neutrophilic inflammation in COPD.
PMCID: PMC3628212  PMID: 23606791
23.  Activity of sputum p38 MAPK is correlated with airway inflammation and reduced FEV1 in COPD patients 
Inflammation and remodeling of the small airways are major determinants of the progression and severity of COPD. The present study explored the correlation between sputum p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) activity and airway inflammation and reduction of lung function in the patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Sputum samples were collected from 48 COPD patients and 12 healthy persons. Sputum p38 MAPK activity was measured by Western blotting and sputum levels of CXCL8 and neutrophil, and lung function was measured. The correlation between p38MAPK activity and airway inflammation and reduction of lung function was analyzed.
Our results showed the significantly increased expression of phospho-p38 MAPK and CXCL8 in the sputum samples of the COPD patients. The p38 MAPK activity was remarkably correlated with the CXCL8 level and neutrophils infiltration in the airway, and the decline of lung function in the COPD patients.
These findings suggest the pivotal role of p38 MAPK in the airway inflammation of COPD patients. We propose p38 MAPK as a potential target for the treatment of COPD.
PMCID: PMC3890402  PMID: 24382347
p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; CXCL8
24.  ATP induced MUC5AC release from human airways in vitro. 
Mediators of Inflammation  2000;9(6):277-284.
BACKGROUND: Chronic airway diseases are often associated with marked mucus production, however, little is known about the regulation of secretory activity by locally released endogenous mediators. AIM: This investigation was performed to determine the release of MUC5AC mucin from human bronchial preparations using the purinergic agonists adenosine 5'-triphosphate (ATP) and uridine 5'-triphosphate (UTP). METHODS: Immunohistochemical and immunoradiometric assays (IRMA) were used to detect the MUC5AC mucin. Immunohistochemical analysis were performed using individual 1-13 M1 and 21 M1 MAbs recognizing a recombinant M1 mucin partially encoded by the MUC5AC gene. IRMA measurments were performed using a mixture of eight anti-M1 mucin MAbs (PM8), which included both 1-13 M1 and 21 M1 MAbs. Lysozyme and protein were also measured in the biological fluids derived from human bronchial preparations obtained from patients who had undergone surgery for lung carcinoma. RESULTS: The anti-M1 monoclonal antibodies labelled epithelial goblet cells. After challenge of human bronchial preparations with ATP, the goblet cells exhibited less staining. In contrast, UTP did not alter the immunolabelling of goblet cells. MUC5AC mucin in the bronchial fluids derived from ATP-challenged preparations was increased while UTP had no effect on release. ATP did not alter either the quantities of lysozyme or protein detected in the biological fluids. CONCLUSION: These results suggest that ATP may regulate epithelial goblet cell secretion of MUC5AC mucin from human airways in vitro.
PMCID: PMC1781772  PMID: 11213911
25.  Differences in local versus systemic TNFα production in COPD: inhibitory effect of hyaluronan on LPS induced blood cell TNFα release 
Thorax  2006;61(6):478-484.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is characterised by both airway inflammation and systemic changes. To elucidate the relationship between local and systemic inflammation, tumour necrosis factor α (TNFα) production by sputum cells and blood cells of patients with COPD and controls was compared and the effect of the extracellular matrix compound hyaluronan (HA) on TNFα release was studied.
Four study groups were included: 10 steroid free COPD patients, 8 steroid treated patients, 10 healthy smokers, and 11 healthy non‐smokers. Sputum cells and blood were incubated for 24 hours with or without lipopolysaccharide (LPS) in the absence or presence of HA (122 kDa or HMW fragment). TNFα was measured by ELISA.
Sputum cells produced spontaneously high levels of TNFα but were unresponsive to LPS. Sputum cells from COPD patients (both steroid free and steroid treated) produced significantly less TNFα than cells from healthy non‐smoking subjects (p = 0.017 and p = 0.001, respectively). In contrast, blood cells produced TNFα only in response to LPS. No differences were observed in TNFα production by blood cells between the patient groups and the control groups. HA (both fragments) partially blocked LPS (1 ng/ml) induced TNFα release by blood cells from all study groups, whereas TNFα production by sputum cells was not influenced by HA.
These data indicate a difference between local and systemic TNFα production. Sputum cells of patients with COPD produced less TNFα than controls, which could contribute to impaired local defence. An inhibitory effect of HA on TNFα release in blood cells was observed which was similar in both patients and controls.
PMCID: PMC2111229  PMID: 16517575
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; hyaluronan; inflammation; sputum cells; tumour necrosis factor α (TNFα)

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