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1.  The Chitinase-like Proteins Breast Regression Protein-39 and YKL-40 Regulate Hyperoxia-induced Acute Lung Injury 
Rationale: Prolonged exposure to 100% O2 causes hyperoxic acute lung injury (HALI), characterized by alveolar epithelial cell injury and death. We previously demonstrated that the murine chitinase-like protein, breast regression protein (BRP)–39 and its human homolog, YKL-40, inhibit cellular apoptosis. However, the regulation and roles of these molecules in hyperoxia have not been addressed.
Objectives: We hypothesized that BRP-39 and YKL-40 (also called chitinase-3–like 1) play important roles in the pathogenesis of HALI.
Methods: We characterized the regulation of BRP-39 during HALI and the responses induced by hyperoxia in wild-type mice, BRP-39–null (−/−) mice, and BRP-39−/− mice in which YKL-40 was overexpressed in respiratory epithelium. We also compared the levels of tracheal aspirate YKL-40 in premature newborns with respiratory failure.
Measurements and Main Results: These studies demonstrate that hyperoxia inhibits BRP-39 in vivo in the murine lung and in vitro in epithelial cells. They also demonstrate that BRP-39−/− mice have exaggerated permeability, protein leak, oxidation, inflammatory, chemokine, and epithelial apoptosis responses, and experience premature death in 100% O2. Lastly, they demonstrate that YKL-40 ameliorates HALI, prolongs survival in 100% O2, and rescues the exaggerated injury response in BRP-39−/− animals. In accord with these findings, the levels of tracheal aspirate YKL-40 were lower in premature infants treated with hyperoxia for respiratory failure who subsequently experienced bronchopulmonary dysplasia or death compared with those that did not experience these complications.
Conclusions: These studies demonstrate that hyperoxia inhibits BRP-39/YKL-40, and that BRP-39 and YKL-40 are critical regulators of oxidant injury, inflammation, and epithelial apoptosis in the murine and human lung.
PMCID: PMC2970863  PMID: 20558631
BRP-39; YKL-40; hyperoxygen; BPD; HALI
2.  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
3.  Role of Breast Regression Protein–39 in the Pathogenesis of Cigarette Smoke–Induced Inflammation and Emphysema 
The exaggerated expression of chitinase-like protein YKL-40, the human homologue of breast regression protein–39 (BRP-39), was reported in a number of diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, the in vivo roles of YKL-40 in normal physiology or in the pathogenesis of specific diseases such as COPD remain poorly understood. We hypothesized that BRP-39/YKL-40 plays an important role in the pathogenesis of cigarette smoke (CS)–induced emphysema. To test this hypothesis, 10-week-old wild-type and BRP-39 null mutant mice (BRP-39−/−) were exposed to room air (RA) and CS for up to 10 months. The expression of BRP-39 was significantly induced in macrophages, airway epithelial cells, and alveolar Type II cells in the lungs of CS-exposed mice compared with RA-exposed mice, at least in part via an IL-18 signaling–dependent pathway. The null mutation of BRP-39 significantly reduced CS-induced bronchoalveolar lavage and tissue inflammation. However, CS-induced epithelial cell apoptosis and alveolar destruction were further enhanced in the absence of BRP-39. Consistent with these findings in mice, the tissue expression of YKL-40 was significantly increased in the lungs of current smokers compared with the lungs of ex-smokers or nonsmokers. In addition, serum concentrations of YKL-40 were significantly higher in smokers with COPD than in nonsmokers or smokers without COPD. These studies demonstrate a novel regulatory role of BRP-39/YKL-40 in CS-induced inflammation and emphysematous destruction. These studies also underscore that maintaining physiologic concentrations of YKL-40 in the lung is therapeutically important in preventing excessive inflammatory responses or emphysematous alveolar destruction.
PMCID: PMC3135840  PMID: 20656949
YKL-40/BRP-39; COPD; emphysema; cigarette smoke
4.  Exacerbation of Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis in the Absence of Breast Regression Protein-39/Chitinase 3-like-1 
We previously reported that YKL-40, the human analog of mouse breast regression protein-39 (BRP-39; chitinase 3-like 1), is elevated in the cerebrospinal fluid of patients with a variety of neuroinflammatory conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury. YKL-40 expression in the CNS was predominantly associated with reactive astrocytes in the vicinity of inflammatory lesions. Because previous studies have shown that reactive astrocytes play a critical role in limiting immune infiltration in the mouse model of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), we explored the role of BRP-39 in regulating neuroinflammation in EAE. Using BRP-39-deficient mice (BRP-39−/−), we demonstrate the importance of BRP-39 in modulating the severity of clinical EAE and CNS neuroinflammation. At disease onset, absence of BRP-39 had little effect on clinical disease or lymphocytic infiltrate, but by 14 days post-immunization (dpi), differences in clinical scores were evident. By 28 dpi, BRP-39−/− mice showed more severe and persistent clinical disease than BRP-39+/+ controls. Histopathological evaluation showed that BRP-39−/− mice had more marked lymphocytic and macrophage infiltrates and gliosis vs. BRP-39+/+ mice. These findings support the role of BRP-39 expression in limiting immune cell infiltration into the CNS and offer a new target to modulate neuroinflammation.
PMCID: PMC3481009  PMID: 23041842
BRP-39; Chitinase-like proteins; Experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis; Multiple sclerosis; Neuroimmunology; YKL-40
5.  The Chitinase-Like Protein YKL-40 Modulates Cystic Fibrosis Lung Disease 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e24399.
The chitinase-like protein YKL-40 was found to be increased in patients with severe asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), two disease conditions featuring neutrophilic infiltrates. Based on these studies and a previous report indicating that neutrophils secrete YKL-40, we hypothesized that YKL-40 plays a key role in cystic fibrosis (CF) lung disease, a prototypic neutrophilic disease. The aim of this study was (i) to analyze YKL-40 levels in human and murine CF lung disease and (ii) to investigate whether YKL-40 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) modulate CF lung disease severity. YKL-40 protein levels were quantified in serum and sputum supernatants from CF patients and control individuals. Levels of the murine homologue BRP-39 were analyzed in airway fluids from CF-like βENaC-Tg mice. YKL-40SNPs were analyzed in CF patients. YKL-40 levels were increased in sputum supernatants and in serum from CF patients compared to healthy control individuals. Within CF patients, YKL-40 levels were higher in sputum than in serum. BRP-39 levels were increased in airways fluids from βENaC-Tg mice compared to wild-type littermates. In both CF patients and βENaC-Tg mice, YKL-40/BRP-39 airway levels correlated with the severity of pulmonary obstruction. Two YKL-40 SNPs (rs871799 and rs880633) were found to modulate age-adjusted lung function in CF patients. YKL-40/BRP-39 levelsare increased in human and murine CF airway fluids, correlate with pulmonary function and modulate CF lung disease severity genetically. These findings suggest YKL-40 as a potential biomarker in CF lung disease.
PMCID: PMC3176766  PMID: 21949714
6.  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
7.  Differential expression and function of breast regression protein 39 (BRP-39) in murine models of subacute cigarette smoke exposure and allergic airway inflammation 
Respiratory Research  2011;12(1):39.
While the presence of the chitinase-like molecule YKL40 has been reported in COPD and asthma, its relevance to inflammatory processes elicited by cigarette smoke and common environmental allergens, such as house dust mite (HDM), is not well understood. The objective of the current study was to assess expression and function of BRP-39, the murine equivalent of YKL40 in a murine model of cigarette smoke-induced inflammation and contrast expression and function to a model of HDM-induced allergic airway inflammation.
CD1, C57BL/6, and BALB/c mice were room air- or cigarette smoke-exposed for 4 days in a whole-body exposure system. In separate experiments, BALB/c mice were challenged with HDM extract once a day for 10 days. BRP-39 was assessed by ELISA and immunohistochemistry. IL-13, IL-1R1, IL-18, and BRP-39 knock out (KO) mice were utilized to assess the mechanism and relevance of BRP-39 in cigarette smoke- and HDM-induced airway inflammation.
Cigarette smoke exposure elicited a robust induction of BRP-39 but not the catalytically active chitinase, AMCase, in lung epithelial cells and alveolar macrophages of all mouse strains tested. Both BRP-39 and AMCase were increased in lung tissue after HDM exposure. Examining smoke-exposed IL-1R1, IL-18, and IL-13 deficient mice, BRP-39 induction was found to be IL-1 and not IL-18 or IL-13 dependent, while induction of BRP-39 by HDM was independent of IL-1 and IL-13. Despite the importance of BRP-39 in cellular inflammation in HDM-induced airway inflammation, BRP-39 was found to be redundant for cigarette smoke-induced airway inflammation and the adjuvant properties of cigarette smoke.
These data highlight the contrast between the importance of BRP-39 in HDM- and cigarette smoke-induced inflammation. While functionally important in HDM-induced inflammation, BRP-39 is a biomarker of cigarette smoke induced inflammation which is the byproduct of an IL-1 inflammatory pathway.
PMCID: PMC3079621  PMID: 21473774
8.  Human YKL-39 is a pseudo-chitinase with retained chitooligosaccharide-binding properties 
The Biochemical journal  2012;446(1):149-157.
The chitinase-like proteins YKL-39 (chitinase 3-like-2) and YKL-40 (chitinase 3-like-1) are highly expressed in a number of human cells independent of their origin (mesenchymal, epithelial or haemapoietic). Elevated serum levels of YKL-40 have been associated with a negative outcome in a number of diseases ranging from cancer to inflammation and asthma. YKL-39 expression has been associated with osteoarthritis. However, despite the reported association with disease, the physiological or pathological role of these proteins is still very poorly understood. Although YKL-39 is homologous to the two family 18 chitinases in the human genome, it has been reported to lack any chitinase activity. In the present study, we show that human YKL-39 possesses a chitinase-like fold, but lacks key active-site residues required for catalysis. A glycan screen identified oligomers of N-acetylglucosamine as preferred binding partners. YKL-39 binds chitooligosaccharides and a newly synthesized derivative of the bisdionin chitinase-inhibitor class with micromolar affinity, through a number of conserved tryptophan residues. Strikingly, the chitinase activity of YKL-39 was recovered by reverting two non-conservative substitutions in the active site to those found in the active enzymes, suggesting that YKL-39 is a pseudo-chitinase with retention of chitinase-like ligand-binding properties.
PMCID: PMC3513709  PMID: 22742450
chitinase; chitinase-like proteins; glycan; glycan array; glycobiology; protein structure; lectin; X-ray crystallography
9.  Effect of Variation in CHI3L1 on Serum YKL-40 Level, Risk of Asthma, and Lung Function 
The New England journal of medicine  2008;358(16):1682-1691.
The chitinase-like protein YKL-40 is involved in inflammation and tissue remodeling. We recently showed that serum YKL-40 levels were elevated in patients with asthma and were correlated with severity, thickening of the subepithelial basement membrane, and pulmonary function. We hypothesized that single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that affect YKL-40 levels also influence asthma status and lung function.
We carried out a genomewide association study of serum YKL-40 levels in a founder population of European descent, the Hutterites, and then tested for an association between an implicated SNP and asthma and lung function. One associated variant was genotyped in a birth cohort at high risk for asthma, in which YKL-40 levels were measured from birth through 5 years of age, and in two populations of unrelated case patients of European descent with asthma and controls.
A promoter SNP (−131C→G) in CHI3L1, the chitinase 3–like 1 gene encoding YKL-40, was associated with elevated serum YKL-40 levels (P = 1.1×10−13), asthma (P = 0.047), bronchial hyperresponsiveness (P = 0.002), and measures of pulmonary function (P = 0.046 to 0.002) in the Hutterites. The same SNP could be used to predict the presence of asthma in the two case–control populations (combined P = 1.2×10−5) and serum YKL-40 levels at birth (in cord-blood specimens) through 5 years of age in the birth cohort (P = 8.9×10−3 to 2.5×10−4).
CHI3L1 is a susceptibility gene for asthma, bronchial hyperresponsiveness, and reduced lung function, and elevated circulating YKL-40 levels are a biomarker for asthma and decline in lung function.
PMCID: PMC2629486  PMID: 18403759
10.  Expression of Osteoarthritis Marker YKL-39 is Stimulated by Transforming Growth Factor Beta (TGF-beta) and IL-4 in Differentiating Macrophages 
Biomarker Insights  2008;3:39-44.
YKL-39 is a Glyco_18 domain containing chitinase-like protein which is currently recognized as a biomarker for the activation of chondrocytes and the progress of the osteoarthritis in human. YKL-39 was identified as an abundantly secreted protein in primary culture of human articular chondrocytes. Two biological activities of YKL-39 might contribute to the disease progression. One is the induction of autoimmune response and second is the participation in tissue remodeling. Other mammalian chitinase-like proteins including chitotriosidase, SI-CLP, YKL-40 and YM1 are expressed by macrophages in various pathological conditions. In contrast, YKL-39 was never reported to be produced by macrophages. We used in vitro model of human monocyte-derived macrophage differentiation to analyse regulation of YKL-39 expression. Expression of YKL-39 was examined by real-time RT-PCR. CD14+ MACS sorted human monocytes differentiated for 6 days under different stimulations including IFNγ, IL-4, dexamethasone and TGF-β. We found that both IL-4 and TGF-β have weak stimulatory effect on YKL-39 expression in all donors tested (3.2 ± 1.7 fold, p = 0.006 and 6.3 ± 3.1 fold, p = 0.014 respectively). However the combination of IL-4 and TGF-β had strong stimulatory effect on the expression of YKL-39 in all analysed individual macrophage cultures (34 ± 36 fold, p = 0.05). IFN-γ did not show statistically significant effect of YKL-39 mRNA expression. Presence of dexamethasone almost completely abolished the stimulatory effects of IL-4 and TGF-β. In summary, we show here for the first time, that human cells of monocyte origin are able to produce YKL-39. Maturation of monocyte derived macrophages in the presence of Th2 cytokine IL-4 and TGF-β leads to the strong activation of YKL-39 expression. Thus elevated levels of YKL-39 observed during chronic inflammations can not be attributed solely to the activity of chondrocytes. In perspective, YKL-39 might serve as a useful biomarker to detect macrophage-specific response in pathologies like tumour, atherosclerosis and Alzheimer disease.
PMCID: PMC2688341  PMID: 19578492
osteoarthritis; chitinase; YKL-39; macrophage; TGF-beta; IL-4
11.  Airway, but not serum or urinary, levels of YKL-40 reflect inflammation in early cystic fibrosis lung disease 
Cystic fibrosis (CF) lung disease begins in early life and is progressive with the major risk factor being an exaggerated inflammatory response. Currently, assessment of neutrophilic inflammation in early cystic fibrosis (CF) lung disease relies on bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL). The chitinase-like protein YKL-40 is raised in sputum and serum of adults with CF. We investigated YKL-40 in BAL, serum and urine to determine whether this reflected inflammation and infection in young children with CF.
YKL-40 was measured in matched samples of BAL, serum and urine obtained from 36 infants and young children with CF participating in an early surveillance program. Levels were compared to clinical data and markers of inflammation detected in the lung.
YKL-40 in BAL correlated with pulmonary infection [β=1.30 (SE 0.34), p < 0.001] and BAL markers of inflammation [macrophage number: r2 = 0.34, p < 0.001; neutrophil number: r2 = 0.74, p < 0.001; neutrophil elastase: r2 = 0.47, p < 0.001; CXCL8: r2 = 0.45, p < 0.001; IL-β: r2 = 0.62, p < 0.001]. YKL-40 was detectable in serum but levels did not correlate with BAL levels in the same individuals (r2 = 0.04, p = 0.14) or with inflammatory markers. YKL-40 was below the limit of detection in urine (30 pg/ml).
This study demonstrates that levels of the chitinase-like protein YKL-40 reflect airway inflammation and infection in early CF lung disease. The lack of increased YKL-40 in serum in the absence of systemic inflammation limits the benefit of this potential biomarker in early disease.
PMCID: PMC3946043  PMID: 24576297
Cystic fibrosis; YKL-40; Biomarker; Lung disease
12.  Expression of the Chitinase Family Glycoprotein YKL-40 in Undifferentiated, Differentiated and Trans-Differentiated Mesenchymal Stem Cells 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e62491.
The glycoprotein YKL-40 (CHI3L1) is a secreted chitinase family protein that induces angiogenesis, cell survival, and cell proliferation, and plays roles in tissue remodeling and immune regulation. It is expressed primarily in cells of mesenchymal origin, is overexpressed in numerous aggressive carcinomas and sarcomas, but is rarely expressed in normal ectodermal tissues. Bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can be induced to differentiate into various mesenchymal tissues and trans-differentiate into some non-mesenchymal cell types. Since YKL-40 has been used as a mesenchymal marker, we followed YKL-40 expression as undifferentiated MSCs were induced to differentiate into bone, cartilage, and neural phenotypes. Undifferentiated MSCs contain significant levels of YKL-40 mRNA but do not synthesize detectable levels of YKL-40 protein. MSCs induced to differentiate into chondrocytes and osteocytes soon began to express and secrete YKL-40 protein, as do ex vivo cultured chondrocytes and primary osteocytes. In contrast, MSCs induced to trans-differentiate into neurons did not synthesize YKL-40 protein, consistent with the general absence of YKL-40 protein in normal CNS parenchyma. However, these trans-differentiated neurons retained significant levels of YKL-40 mRNA, suggesting the mechanisms which prevented YKL-40 translation in undifferentiated MSCs remained in place, and that these trans-differentiated neurons differ in at least this way from neurons derived from neuronal stem cells. Utilization of a differentiation protocol containing β-mercaptoethanol resulted in cells that expressed significant amounts of intracellular YKL-40 protein that was not secreted, which is not seen in normal cells. Thus the synthesis of YKL-40 protein is a marker for MSC differentiation into mature mesenchymal phenotypes, and the presence of untranslated YKL-40 mRNA in non-mesenchymal cells derived from MSCs reflects differences between differentiated and trans-differentiated phenotypes.
PMCID: PMC3650021  PMID: 23671604
13.  YKL-40 tissue expression and plasma levels in patients with ovarian cancer 
BMC Cancer  2009;9:8.
YKL-40 (chitinase-3-like-1) is a member of "mammalian chitinase-like proteins". The protein is expressed in many types of cancer cells and the highest plasma YKL-40 levels have been found in patients with metastatic disease, short recurrence/progression-free intervals, and short overall survival. The aim of the study was to determine the expression of YKL-40 in tumor tissue and plasma in patients with borderline ovarian tumor or epithelial ovarian cancer (OC), and investigate prognostic value of this marker.
YKL-40 protein expression was determined by immunohistochemistry in tissue arrays from 181 borderline tumors and 473 OC. Plasma YKL-40 was determined by ELISA in preoperative samples from 19 patients with borderline tumor and 76 OC patients.
YKL-40 protein expression was found in cancer cells, tumor associated macrophages, neutrophils and mast cells. The tumor cell expression was higher in OC than in borderline tumors (p = 0.001), and associated with FIGO stage (p < 0.0001) and histological subtype (p = 0.0009). Positive YKL-40 expression (≥ 5% staining) was not associated with reduced survival. Plasma YKL-40 was also higher in patients with OC than in patients with borderline tumors (p < 0.0001), and it was positively correlated to serum CA-125 (p < 0.0001) and FIGO stage (p = 0.0001). Univariate Cox analysis of plasma YKL-40 showed association with overall survival (p < 0.0001). Multivariate Cox analysis, including plasma YKL-40, serum CA125, FIGO stage, age and radicality after primary surgery as variables, showed that elevated plasma YKL-40 was associated with a shorter survival (HR = 2.13, 95% CI: 1.40–3.25, p = 0.0004).
YKL-40 in OC tissue and plasma are related to stage and histology, but only plasma YKL-40 is a prognostic biomarker in patients with OC.
PMCID: PMC2645422  PMID: 19134206
14.  Novel methylxanthine derivative-mediated anti-inflammatory effects in inflammatory bowel disease 
Family 18 chitinases have a binding capacity with chitin, a polymer of N-acetylglucosamine. Recent studies strongly suggested that chitinase 3-like 1 (CHI3L1, also known as YKL-40) and acidic mammalian chitinase, the two major members of family 18 chitinases, play a pivotal role in the pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), bronchial asthma and several other inflammatory disorders. Based on the data from high-throughput screening, it has been found that three methylxanthine derivatives, caffeine, theophylline, and pentoxifylline, have competitive inhibitory effects against a fungal family 18 chitinase by specifically interacting with conserved tryptophans in the active site of this protein. Methylxanthine derivatives are also known as adenosine receptor antagonists, phosphodiesterase inhibitors and histone deacetylase inducers. Anti-inflammatory effects of methylxanthine derivatives have been well-documented in the literature. For example, a beneficial link between coffee or caffeine consumption and type 2 diabetes as well as liver cirrhosis has been reported. Furthermore, theophylline has a long history of being used as a bronchodilator in asthma therapy, and pentoxifylline has an immuno-modulating effect for peripheral vascular disease. However, it is still largely unknown whether these methylxanthine derivative-mediated anti-inflammatory effects are associated with the inhibition of CHI3L1-induced cytoplasmic signaling cascades in epithelial cells. In this review article we will examine the above possibility and summarize the biological significance of methylxanthine derivatives in intestinal epithelial cells. We hope that this study will provide a rationale for the development of methylxanthine derivatives, in particular caffeine, -based anti-inflammatory therapeutics in the field of IBD and IBD-associated carcinogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3921497  PMID: 24574789
Adherent-invasive Escherichia coli; Chitinase 3-like 1; Chitinase inhibitors; Intestinal epithelial cells; Host-microbial interactions; Inflammatory bowel disease
15.  The Chitinase and Chitinase-Like Proteins: A Review of Genetic and Functional Studies in Asthma and Immune-Mediated Diseases 
Purpose of Review
This review provides an overview of the chitinase and chitinase-like proteins, chitotriosidase (CHIT1), YKL-40, and acid mammalian chitinase (AMCase), and to summarize the genetic studies of asthma and immune mediated diseases with polymorphisms in the genes encoding these proteins: CHIT1, CHI3L1, and CHIA, respectively.
Recent Findings
Polymorphisms in the CHIT1, CHIA, and CHI3L1 genes influence chitotriosidase enzyme activity, AMCase activity, and YKL-40 levels, respectively. Regulatory SNPs in CHI3L1 were also associated with asthma, atopy, and immune-mediated diseases, and nonsynonymous SNPs in CHIA were associated with asthma. No CHIT1 polymorphisms, including a common nonfunctional 24-bp duplication allele, have been associated with asthma.
These genes represent novel asthma susceptibility genes. Variation in CHI3L1 and CHIA have been associated with asthma risk. Polymorphisms in CHIT1 have not yet been associated with asthma, but few studies have been reported. Given that chitotriosidase is the major chitinase in the airways and a common nonfunctional allele is present in many populations, additional studies of this gene are also warranted. Lastly, studies of all three genes need to be conducted in populations of diverse ancestries.
PMCID: PMC3018778  PMID: 19644363
Chitotriosidase; CHIT1; YKL-40; CHI3L1; AMCase; CHIA
16.  High YKL-40 Serum Concentration Is Correlated with Prognosis of Chinese Patients with Breast Cancer 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e51127.
This study aimed to investigate the association between serum YKL-40 and prognosis of breast cancer in a Chinese population. Expression of YKL-40 of 120 Chinese patients with breast cancer and 30 controls (benign breast lesions) was measured in tumor tissue by immunohistochemistry and in serum by ELISA. Differences in YKL-40 positivity grouped by specific patients’ characteristics were compared using Pearson Chi-square test for rates of intratumoral staining, one-way ANOVA with a Bonferroni post-hoc comparison, or two-sample t-test for mean YKL-40 serum concentrations. Factors associated with overall survival were identified by univariate and multivariate cox-regression analyses. YKL-40 was elevated in approximately 75% of Chinese patients with breast cancer. A significantly higher percentage of patients with YKL-40 positive tumors had larger tumor size, higher TNM stage, and/or lymph node metastasis. Significantly higher mean YKL-40 serum concentrations were observed in patient subgroups with invasive lobular carcinoma (P<0.0167), higher TNM stage (P<0.001), and positive lymph node metastasis (P<0.001). The estimated mean survival time of patients with YKL-40 positive tumors was significantly shorter than for patients with YKL-40 negative tumors (55.13 months vs 65.78 months, P = 0.017). Multivariable Cox-regression analysis identified a significant association of overall survival time with YKL-40 serum concentration. Patients with YKL-40 positive tumors had significantly shorter disease free survival times than those with YKL-40 negative tumors. We propose that the potential utility of YKL-40 intratumoral staining or serum concentration as a biomarker for breast cancer is greatest within 5 years of diagnosis.
PMCID: PMC3515550  PMID: 23227243
17.  YKL-40, a secreted glycoprotein, promotes tumor angiogenesis 
Oncogene  2009;28(50):4456-4468.
Tumor angiogenesis is of paramount importance in solid tumor development. Elevated serum levels of YKL-40, a secreted heparin-binding glycoprotein have been associated with a worse prognosis from a variety of advanced human cancers. Yet the role of YKL-40 activity in these cancers is still missing. Here, we have shown that ectopic expression of YKL-40 in MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells and HCT-116 colon cancer cells led to larger tumor formation with an extensive angiogenic phenotype than did control cancer cells in mice. Affinity purified recombinant YKL-40 protein promoted vascular endothelial cell angiogenesis in vitro, the effects similar to the activities observed using MDA-MB-231 and HCT-116 cell conditioned medium after transfection with YKL-40. Further, YKL-40 was found to induce the coordination of membrane-bound receptor syndecan-1 and integrin αvβ3 and activate an intracellular signaling cascade including focal adhesion kinase and MAP kinase Erk1/2 in endothelial cells. Also, blockade of YKL-40 using siRNA gene knockdown suppressed tumor angiogenesis in vitro and in vivo. Immunohistochemical analysis of human breast cancer revealed a correlation between YKL-40 expression and blood vessel density. These findings provide novel insights into angiogenic activities and molecular mechanisms of YKL-40 in cancer development.
PMCID: PMC2795793  PMID: 19767768
18.  Fungal Exposure Modulates the Effect of Polymorphisms of Chitinases on Emergency Department Visits and Hospitalizations 
Rationale: Chitinases are enzymes that cleave chitin, which is present in fungal cells. Two types of human chitinases, chitotriosidase and acidic mammalian chitinase, and the chitinase-like protein, YKL-40, seem to play an important role in asthma. We hypothesized that exposure to environmental fungi may modulate the effect of chitinases in individuals with asthma.
Objectives: To explore whether interactions between high fungal exposure and common genetic variants in the two chitinases in humans, CHIT1 and CHIA, and the chitinase 3-like 1 gene, CHI3L1, are associated with severe asthma exacerbations and other asthma-related outcomes.
Methods: Forty-eight single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in CHIT1, CHIA, and CHI3L1 and one CHIT1 duplication were genotyped in 395 subjects and their parents as part of the Childhood Asthma Management Program. Household levels of mold (an index of fungal exposure) were determined on house dust samples. We conducted family-based association tests with gene–environment interactions. Our outcome was severe exacerbation, defined as emergency department visits and hospitalizations from asthma over a 4-year period, and our secondary outcomes included indices of lung function and allergy-related phenotypes.
Measurements and Main Results: Of the 395 subjects who had mold levels at randomization, 24% (95 subjects) had levels that were greater than 25,000 units per gram of house dust (high mold exposure). High mold exposure significantly modified the relation between three SNPs in CHIT1 (rs2486953, rs4950936, and rs1417149) and severe exacerbations (P for interaction 0.0010 for rs2486953, 0.0008 for rs4950936, and 0.0005 for rs1417149). High mold exposure did not significantly modify the relationship between any of the other variants and outcomes.
Conclusions: Environmental exposure to fungi, modifies the effect of CHIT1 SNPs on severe asthma exacerbations.
PMCID: PMC2970860  PMID: 20538957
chitinase; asthma; CHIA; CHIT1; CHI13L1
19.  Recognition of YKL-39, a human cartilage related protein, as a target antigen in patients with rheumatoid arthritis 
OBJECTIVE—To investigate whether autoimmunity to YKL-39, a recently cloned cartilage protein, occurs in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
METHODS—Autoantibody to YKL-39 was assayed by enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and western blotting in serum samples from patients with RA, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and healthy donors, using recombinant YKL-39 protein. This reactivity was compared with that against a YKL-39 homologue, YKL-40 (human cartilage gp-39/chondrex), which has been reported to be an autoantigen in RA.
RESULTS—Autoantibody to YKL-39 was detected in seven of 87 patients with RA (8%), but not in serum samples from patients with SLE or healthy donors. YKL-40 reactivity was found in only one of 87 RA serum samples (1%), with no cross reactivity to YKL-39.
CONCLUSION—The existence of anti-YKL-39 antibody in a subset of patients with RA is reported here for the first time. Further, it was shown that the immune response to YKL-39 was independent of that to YKL-40. Clarification of the antibody and T cell responses to autoantigens derived from chondrocyte, cartilage, or other joint components may lead to a better understanding of the pathophysiology of joint destruction in patients with RA.

PMCID: PMC1753367  PMID: 11114282
20.  Chemical genetic dissection of brassinosteroid-ethylene interaction 
Molecular plant  2008;1(2):368-379.
We undertook a chemical genetics screen to identify chemical inhibitors of brassinosteroid (BR) action. From a chemical library of 10,000 small molecules, one compound was found to inhibit hypocotyl length and activate the expression of a BR-repressed reportergene (CPD-GUS) in Arabidopsis, and it was named brassinopride (BRP). These effects of BRP could be reversed by co-treatment with brassinolide, suggesting that BRP either directly or indirectly inhibits BR biosynthesis. Interestingly, the compound causes exaggerated apical hooks, similar to that caused by ethylene treatment. The BRP-induced apical hook phenotype can be blocked by a chemical inhibitor of ethylene perception or an ethylene insensitive mutant, suggesting that, in addition to inhibiting BR, BRP activates ethylene response. Analysis of BRP analogs provided clues about structural features important for its effects on two separate targets in the BR and ethylene pathways. Analyses of the responses of various BR and ethylene mutants to BRP, ethylene, and BR treatments revealed modes of crosstalk between ethylene and BR in dark-grown seedlings. Our results suggest that active downstream BR signaling, but not BR synthesis or a BR gradient, is required for ethylene-induced apical hook formation. The BRP-related compounds can be useful tools for manipulating plant growth and studying hormone interactions.
PMCID: PMC2975526  PMID: 19825546
21.  Chitinase-like Proteins in Lung Injury, Repair, and Metastasis 
This report explains how our studies of asthma and Th2 inflammation led us to investigate the roles of chitinase-like proteins (CLPs) in lung injury and repair and puts forth an overall hypothesis that can explain the roles that these moieties play in biology and a hypothesis regarding the ways that dysregulated CLP expression may contribute to the pathogenesis of a variety of diseases. We test this hypothesis by assessing the contributions of the CLP breast regression protein (BRP)-39 in the pathogenesis of malignant melanoma metastasis to the lung.
PMCID: PMC3359113  PMID: 22550243
BRP-39/YKL-40; inflammation; injury; repair; metastasis
22.  YKL-40 Expression in Traumatic Brain Injury: An Initial Analysis 
Journal of Neurotrauma  2010;27(7):1215-1223.
YKL-40 (chitinase 3-like protein 1) is expressed in a broad spectrum of inflammatory conditions and cancers. We have previously reported that YKL-40 levels are elevated in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of macaques and humans with lentiviral encephalitis, as well as multiple sclerosis (MS). The current study assessed temporal CSF YKL-40 levels in subjects with severe traumatic brain injury (TBI; Glasgow Coma Scale [GCS] score ≤8). We also evaluated temporal expression of YKL-40 after parasagittal controlled cortical impact (CCI) injury over the parietal cortex (2.8 mm deep, 4 m/sec). We demonstrate that CSF YKL-40 levels are elevated after acute TBI, and that YKL-40 levels are higher in patients who died following injury than in patients who survived. YKL-40 levels significantly correlate with CSF levels of inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-1β (IL-1β) and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), as well as the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP). After CCI, in situ hybridization (ISH) showed that YKL-40 transcription is primarily associated with reactive astrocytes in pericontusional cortex. Tissue YKL-40 transcription time course analysis after CCI showed that YKL40 transcription in astrocytes began 1 day after injury, remained elevated for several days, and then declined by day 12. Similarly to our temporal CSF measurements in humans, YKL-40 induction after CCI is coincident with IL-1β expression. Taken together these findings demonstrate that YKL-40 is induced in astrocytes during acute neuroinflammation, is temporally related to inflammatory mediator expression, and may be a useful biomarker for understanding secondary injury and for patient prognosis.
PMCID: PMC2942903  PMID: 20486806
chitinase; controlled cortical impact; cytokine; gliosis; neuroinflammation; traumatic brain injury; YKL-40
23.  A polymorphism associated with increased levels of YKL-40 and the risk of early onset of lone atrial fibrillation 
Plasma levels of YKL-40 are elevated in patients with atrial fibrillation (AF). We hypothesized that a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) that affects YKL-40 plasma levels is associated to the risk of lone AF.
We included 178 young patients with lone AF and the first episode before the age of 40 years, and a control group of 875 healthy individuals. We analyzed a promoter SNP (−131CG) (rs4950928) in the Chitinase 3–like 1 (CHI3L1) gene encoding YKL-40, which had previously been associated with elevated levels of YKL-40.
The (−131CG) genotype was not associated with increased risk of AF. Genetically increased YKL-40 levels were not associated to AF.
PMCID: PMC3554423  PMID: 23279705
YKL-40; Single nucleotide polymorphism; Inflammation; Atrial fibrillation
24.  Association of Polymorphisms of the CHI3L1 Gene with Asthma and Atopy: A Populations-Based Study of 6514 Danish Adults 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(7):e6106.
YKL-40 is a chitinase-like glycoprotein encoded by the chitinase 3-like 1 gene, CHI3L1, localized at chromosome 1q32.1. Increased levels of serum YKL-40 have been reported to be a biomarker for asthma and a reduced lung function. Interestingly, the C-allele of the -131 C→G (rs4950928) polymorphism of CHI3L1 has been shown to associate with bronchial hyperresponsiveness and reduced lung function suggesting that variations in CHI3L1 may influence risk of asthma. The objective of the present study was to investigate the association of common variation in the CHI3L1 locus with asthma, atopy and lung function in a large population-based sample of adults.
Methods/Principal Findings
Eleven single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) of CHI3L1 including rs4950928 were genotyped in 6514 individuals. Asthma was defined as self-reported history of physician-diagnosed asthma. Total IgE and specific IgE to inhalant allergens were measured on serum samples. Lung function was measured by spirometry. Homozygosity of the rs4950928 G allele as compared to homozygosity of the C allele was associated with self-reported physician diagnosed asthma (OR 1.5 (95% CI, 1.00–2.26)) and with prevalence of atopic asthma (OR 1.93 (95% CI, 1.21–3.07)) after adjustment for age, sex, smoking status, socio-economic class and BMI. Carriers of rs883125 G allele had a significantly lower prevalence of atopy (OR 0.82 (CI, 0.72; 0.94)) as compared to homozygosity of the C allele. None of the SNPs examined were significantly associated with FEV1. However, two SNPs (rs10399931and rs4950930) appeared to be significantly associated with FEV1/FVC-ratio. Subgroup analyses of never-smokers did not consistently influence the associations in an either positively og negatively way.
In contrast to previous studies, the rs4950928 G allele, and not the C allele, was found to be associated with asthma. A few other SNPs of the CHI3L1 was found to be significantly associated with atopy and FEV1/FVC ratio, respectively. Thus, more studies seem warranted to establish the role of CHI3L1 gene in asthma and atopy.
PMCID: PMC2699472  PMID: 19568425
25.  YKL-40 acts as an angiogenic factor to promote tumor angiogenesis 
A secreted glycoprotein YKL-40 also named chitinase-3-like-1 is normally expressed by multiple cell types such as macrophages, chondrocytes, and vascular smooth muscle cells. However, a prominently high level of YKL-40 was found in a wide spectrum of human diseases including cancers and chronic inflammatory diseases where it was strongly expressed by cancerous cells and infiltrating macrophages. Here, we summarized recent important findings of YKL-40 derived from cancerous cells and smooth muscle cells during tumor angiogenesis and development. YKL-40 is a potent angiogenic factor capable of stimulating tumor vascularization mediated by endothelial cells and maintaining vascular integrity supported by smooth muscle cells. In addition, YKL-40 induces FAK-MAPK signaling and up-regulates VEGF receptor 2 in endothelial cells; but a neutralizing antibody (mAY) against YKL-40 inhibits its angiogenic activity. While YKL-40 is essential for angiogenesis, little is known about its functional role in tumor-associated macrophage (TAM)-mediated tumor development. Therefore, significant efforts are urgently needed to identify pathophysiological function of YKL-40 in the dynamic interaction between tumor cells and TAMs in the tumor microenvironment, which may offer substantial mechanistic insights into tumor angiogenesis and metastasis, and also point to a therapeutic target for treatment of cancers and other diseases.
PMCID: PMC3664773  PMID: 23755018
YKL-40; angiogenesis; VEGF; tumor cells; vascular endothelial cells; tumor-associated macrophages; tumor microenvironment; neutralizing anti-YKL-40 antibody

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