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1.  Altered protease and antiprotease balance during a COPD exacerbation contributes to mucus obstruction 
Respiratory Research  2015;16(1):85.
Proteases have been shown to degrade airway mucin proteins and to damage the epithelium impairing mucociliary clearance. There are increased proteases in the COPD airway but changes in protease-antiprotease balance and mucin degradation have not been investigated during the course of a COPD exacerbation. We hypothesized that increased protease levels would lead to mucin degradation in acute COPD exacerbations.
We measured neutrophil elastase (NE) and alpha 1 protease inhibitor (A1-PI) levels using immunoblotting, and conducted protease inhibitor studies, zymograms, elastin substrate assays and cigarette smoke condensate experiments to evaluate the stability of the gel-forming mucins, MUC5AC and MUC5B, before and 5–6 weeks after an acute pulmonary exacerbation of COPD (n = 9 subjects).
Unexpectedly, mucin concentration and mucin stability were highest at the start of the exacerbation and restored to baseline after 6 weeks. Consistent with these data, immunoblots and zymograms confirmed decreased NE concentration and activity and increased A1-PI at the start of the exacerbation. After recovery there was an increase in NE activity and a decrease in A1-PI levels. In vitro, protease inhibitor studies demonstrated that serine proteases played a key role in mucin degradation. Mucin stability was further enhanced upon treating with cigarette smoke condensate (CSC).
There appears to be rapid consumption of secreted proteases due to an increase in antiproteases, at the start of a COPD exacerbation. This leads to increased mucin gel stability which may be important in trapping and clearing infectious and inflammatory mediators, but this may also contribute acutely to mucus retention.
PMCID: PMC4501272  PMID: 26169056
COPD; Mucin; Proteases; Alpha-1-protease inhibitor; Neutrophil elastase; Cigarette smoke; Hypersecretion
2.  Serine Protease(s) Secreted by the Nematode Trichuris muris Degrade the Mucus Barrier 
The polymeric mucin component of the intestinal mucus barrier changes during nematode infection to provide not only physical protection but also to directly affect pathogenic nematodes and aid expulsion. Despite this, the direct interaction of the nematodes with the mucins and the mucus barrier has not previously been addressed. We used the well-established Trichuris muris nematode model to investigate the effect on mucins of the complex mixture of immunogenic proteins secreted by the nematode called excretory/secretory products (ESPs). Different regimes of T. muris infection were used to simulate chronic (low dose) or acute (high dose) infection. Mucus/mucins isolated from mice and from the human intestinal cell line, LS174T, were treated with ESPs. We demonstrate that serine protease(s) secreted by the nematode have the ability to change the properties of the mucus barrier, making it more porous by degrading the mucin component of the mucus gel. Specifically, the serine protease(s) acted on the N-terminal polymerising domain of the major intestinal mucin Muc2, resulting in depolymerisation of Muc2 polymers. Importantly, the respiratory/gastric mucin Muc5ac, which is induced in the intestine and is critical for worm expulsion, was protected from the depolymerising effect exerted by ESPs. Furthermore, serine protease inhibitors (Serpins) which may protect the mucins, in particular Muc2, from depolymerisation, were highly expressed in mice resistant to chronic infection. Thus, we demonstrate that nematodes secrete serine protease(s) to degrade mucins within the mucus barrier, which may modify the niche of the parasite to prevent clearance from the host or facilitate efficient mating and egg laying from the posterior end of the parasite that is in intimate contact with the mucus barrier. However, during a TH2-mediated worm expulsion response, serpins, Muc5ac and increased levels of Muc2 protect the barrier from degradation by the nematode secreted protease(s).
Author Summary
Gastrointestinal parasitic worm infections cause significant morbidity, affecting up to a third of the world's populationand their domestic pets and livestock. Mucus, the gel-like material that blankets the surface of the intestine, forms a protective barrier that is an important part of our innate immune system. The whipworm Trichuris is closely associated with the intestinal mucus barrier. The major structural component of this barrier, large glycoproteins known as mucins play a significant role in the expulsion of these worms in a mouse model. Using mice that get longterm chronic infections and others able to expel the worms from the intestine, we uncover a novel role for products secreted by the worms. Enzymes secreted by whipworms can disrupt the mucin network that gives mucus its viscous properties. Moreover, we unravel that worm products are unable to degrade forms of mucins present in the mucus barrier during worm expulsion, suggesting that these enzymes may be released by the worm as part of its regime to improve its niche and survival in the host. However, the host is capable of producing mucins and other protective molecules that protect the mucus barrier from degradation and are detrimental to the viability of the worm.
PMCID: PMC3469553  PMID: 23071854
3.  Serine Proteases Degrade Airway Mucins in Cystic Fibrosis ▿ †  
Infection and Immunity  2011;79(8):3438-3444.
Airway mucins are the major molecular constituents of mucus. Mucus forms the first barrier to invading organisms in the airways and is an important defense mechanism of the lung. We confirm that mucin concentrations are significantly decreased in airway secretions of subjects with cystic fibrosis (CF) who have chronic Pseudomonas aeruginosa infection. In sputum from CF subjects without a history of P. aeruginosa, we found no significant difference in the mucin concentration compared to mucus from normal controls. We demonstrate that mucins can be degraded by synthetic human neutrophil elastase (HNE) and P. aeruginosa elastase B (pseudolysin) and that degradation was inhibited by serine proteases inhibitors (diisopropyl fluorophosphates [DFP], phenylmethylsulfonyl fluoride [PMSF], and 1-chloro-3-tosylamido-7-amino-2-heptanone HCl [TLCK]). The mucin concentration in airway secretions from CF subjects is similar to that for normal subjects until there is infection by P. aeruginosa, and after that, the mucin concentration decreases dramatically. This is most likely due to degradation by serine proteases. The loss of this mucin barrier may contribute to chronic airway infection in the CF airway.
PMCID: PMC3147599  PMID: 21646446
4.  Functionalized Positive Nanoparticles Reduce Mucin Swelling and Dispersion 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(11):e15434.
Multi-functionalized nanoparticles (NPs) have been extensively investigated for their potential in household and commercial products, and biomedical applications. Previous reports have confirmed the cellular nanotoxicity and adverse inflammatory effects on pulmonary systems induced by NPs. However, possible health hazards resulting from mucus rheological disturbances induced by NPs are underexplored. Accumulation of viscous, poorly dispersed, and less transportable mucus leading to improper mucus rheology and dysfunctional mucociliary clearance are typically found to associate with many respiratory diseases such as asthma, cystic fibrosis (CF), and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). Whether functionalized NPs can alter mucus rheology and its operational mechanisms have not been resolved. Herein, we report that positively charged functionalized NPs can hinder mucin gel hydration and effectively induce mucin aggregation. The positively charged NPs can significantly reduce the rate of mucin matrix swelling by a maximum of 7.5 folds. These NPs significantly increase the size of aggregated mucin by approximately 30 times within 24 hrs. EGTA chelation of indigenous mucin crosslinkers (Ca2+ ions) was unable to effectively disperse NP-induced aggregated mucins. Our results have demonstrated that positively charged functionalized NPs can impede mucin gel swelling by crosslinking the matrix. This report also highlights the unexpected health risk of NP-induced change in mucus rheological properties resulting in possible mucociliary transport impairment on epithelial mucosa and related health problems. In addition, our data can serve as a prospective guideline for designing nanocarriers for airway drug delivery applications.
PMCID: PMC2978103  PMID: 21085670
5.  Oxidation increases mucin polymer cross-links to stiffen airway mucus gels 
Science translational medicine  2015;7(276):276ra27.
Airway mucus in cystic fibrosis (CF) is highly elastic, but the mechanism behind this pathology is unclear. We hypothesized that the biophysical properties of CF mucus are altered because of neutrophilic oxidative stress. Using confocal imaging, rheology, and biochemical measures of inflammation and oxidation, we found that CF airway mucus gels have a molecular architecture characterized by a core of mucin covered by a web of DNA and a rheological profile characterized by high elasticity that can be normalized by chemical reduction. We also found that high levels of reactive oxygen species in CF mucus correlated positively and significantly with high concentrations of the oxidized products of cysteine (disulfide cross-links). To directly determine whether oxidation can cross-link mucins to increase mucus elasticity, we exposed induced sputum from healthy subjects to oxidizing stimuli and found a marked and thiol-dependent increase in sputum elasticity. Targeting mucin disulfide cross-links using current thiol-amino structures such as N-acetylcysteine (NAC) requires high drug concentrations to have mucolytic effects. We therefore synthesized a thiol-carbohydrate structure (methyl 6-thio-6-deoxy-α-D-galactopyranoside) and found that it had stronger reducing activity than NAC and more potent and fast-acting mucolytic activity in CF sputum. Thus, oxidation arising from airway inflammation or environmental exposure contributes to pathologic mucus gel formation in the lung, which suggests that it can be targeted by thiol-modified carbohydrates.
PMCID: PMC4403633  PMID: 25717100
6.  Mycoplasma pneumoniae Modulates STAT3-STAT6/EGFR-FOXA2 Signaling To Induce Overexpression of Airway Mucins 
Infection and Immunity  2014;82(12):5246-5255.
Aberrant mucin secretion and accumulation in the airway lumen are clinical hallmarks associated with various lung diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cystic fibrosis. Mycoplasma pneumoniae, long appreciated as one of the triggers of acute exacerbations of chronic pulmonary diseases, has recently been reported to promote excessive mucus secretion. However, the mechanism of mucin overproduction induced by M. pneumoniae remains unclear. This study aimed to determine the mechanism by which M. pneumoniae induces mucus hypersecretion by using M. pneumoniae infection of mouse lungs, human primary bronchial epithelial (NHBE) cells cultured at the air-liquid interface, and the conventionally cultured airway epithelial NCI-H292 cell line. We demonstrated that M. pneumoniae induced the expression of mucins MUC5AC and MUC5B by activating the STAT6-STAT3 and epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) signal pathways, which in turn downregulated FOXA2, a transcriptional repressor of mucin biosynthesis. The upstream stimuli of these pathways, including interleukin-4 (IL-4), IL-6, and IL-13, increased dramatically upon exposure to M. pneumoniae. Inhibition of the STAT6, STAT3, and EGFR signaling pathways significantly restored the expression of FOXA2 and attenuated the expression of airway mucins MUC5AC and MUC5B. Collectively, these studies demonstrated that M. pneumoniae induces airway mucus hypersecretion by modulating the STAT/EGFR-FOXA2 signaling pathways.
PMCID: PMC4249270  PMID: 25287927
7.  Advances in Mucous Cell Metaplasia 
Mucous cell metaplasia is induced in response to harmful insults and provides front-line protection to clear the airway of toxic substances and cellular debris. In chronic airway diseases mucous metaplasia persists and results in airway obstruction and contributes significantly to morbidity and mortality. Mucus hypersecretion involves increased expression of mucin genes, and increased mucin production and release. The past decade has seen significant advances in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms by which these events occur. Inflammation stimulates epidermal growth factor receptor activation and IL-13 to induce both Clara and ciliated cells to transition into goblet cells through the coordinated actions of FoxA2, TTF-1, SPDEF, and GABAAR. Ultimately, these steps lead to up-regulation of MUC5AC expression, and increased mucin in goblet cell granules that fuse to the plasma membrane through actions of MARCKS, SNAREs, and Munc proteins. Blockade of mucus in exacerbations of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may affect morbidity. Development of new therapies to target mucus production and secretion are now possible given the advances in our understanding of molecular mechanisms of mucous metaplasia. We now have a greater incentive to focus on inhibition of mucus as a therapy for chronic airway diseases.
PMCID: PMC2830403  PMID: 19520914
mucus; goblet cell; airway epithelium; asthma; COPD
8.  Mucus hypersecretion in asthma: causes and effects 
Purpose of review
Airway mucus plugging has long been recognized as a principal cause of death in asthma. However, molecular mechanisms of mucin overproduction and secretion have not been understood until recently. These mechanisms are reviewed together with ongoing investigations relating them to lung pathophysiology.
Recent findings
Of the five secreted gel-forming mucins in mammals, only MUC5AC and MUC5B are produced in significant quantities in intrapulmonary airways. MUC5B is the principal gel-forming mucin at baseline in small airways of humans and mice, and therefore likely performs most homeostatic clearance functions. MUC5AC is the principal gel-forming mucin upregulated in airway inflammation and is under negative control by forkhead box a2 and positive control by hypoxia inducible factor-1. Mucin secretion is regulated separately from production, principally by extracellular triphosphate nucleotides that bind P2Y2 receptors on the lumenal surface of airway secretory cells, generating intracellular second messengers that activate the exocytic proteins, Munc13-2 and synaptotagmin-2.
Markedly upregulated production of MUC5AC together with stimulated secretion leads to airflow obstruction in asthma. As MUC5B appears to mediate homeostatic functions, it may be possible to selectively inhibit MUC5AC production without impairing airway function. The precise roles of mucin hypersecretion in asthma symptoms such as dyspnea and cough and in physiologic phenomena such as airway hyperresponsiveness remain to be defined.
PMCID: PMC2709596  PMID: 19077699
airway; asthma; mucin; mucous; mucus
9.  Epinephrine Activation of the β2-Adrenoceptor Is Required for IL-13-Induced Mucin Production in Human Bronchial Epithelial Cells 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(7):e0132559.
Mucus hypersecretion by airway epithelium is a hallmark of inflammation in allergic asthma and results in airway narrowing and obstruction. Others have shown that administration a TH2 cytokine, IL-13 is sufficient to cause mucus hypersecretion in vivo and in vitro. Asthma therapy often utilizes β2-adrenoceptor (β2AR) agonists, which are effective acutely as bronchodilators, however chronic use may lead to a worsening of asthma symptoms. In this study, we asked whether β2AR signaling in normal human airway epithelial (NHBE) cells affected mucin production in response to IL-13. This cytokine markedly increased mucin production, but only in the presence of epinephrine. Mucin production was blocked by ICI-118,551, a preferential β2AR antagonist, but not by CGP-20712A, a preferential β1AR antagonist. Constitutive β2AR activity was not sufficient for IL-13 induced mucin production and β-agonist-induced signaling is required. A clinically important long-acting β-agonist, formoterol, was as effective as epinephrine in potentiating IL-13 induced MUC5AC transcription. IL-13 induced mucin production in the presence of epinephrine was significantly reduced by treatment with selective inhibitors of ERK1/2 (FR180204), p38 (SB203580) and JNK (SP600125). Replacement of epinephrine with forskolin + IBMX resulted in a marked increase in mucin production in NHBE cells in response to IL-13, and treatment with the inhibitory cAMP analogue Rp-cAMPS decreased mucin levels induced by epinephrine + IL-13. Our findings suggest that β2AR signaling is required for mucin production in response to IL-13, and that mitogen activated protein kinases and cAMP are necessary for this effect. These data lend support to the notion that β2AR-agonists may contribute to asthma exacerbations by increasing mucin production via activation of β2ARs on epithelial cells.
PMCID: PMC4498766  PMID: 26161982
10.  Muc5b Is Required for Airway Defense 
Nature  2013;505(7483):412-416.
Respiratory surfaces are exposed to billions of particulates and pathogens daily. A protective mucus barrier traps and eliminates them via mucociliary clearance (MCC)1,2. However, excessive mucus contributes to transient respiratory infections and to the pathogenesis of numerous respiratory diseases1. MUC5AC and MUC5B are evolutionarily conserved genes that encode structurally related mucin glycoproteins, the principal macromolecules in airway mucus1,3. Genetic variants are linked to diverse lung diseases4-6, but specific roles for MUC5AC and MUC5B in MCC, and the lasting effects of their inhibition, are unknown. Here we show that Muc5b (but not Muc5ac) is required for MCC, for controlling infections in the airways and middle ear, and for maintaining immune homeostasis in the lungs. Muc5b deficiency caused materials to accumulate in upper and lower airways. This defect led to chronic infection by multiple bacterial species, including Staphylococcus aureus, and to inflammation that failed to resolve normally7. Apoptotic macrophages accumulated, phagocytosis was impaired, and IL-23 production was reduced inMuc5b−/− mice. By contrast, in Muc5b transgenic (Tg) mice, macrophage functions improved. Existing dogma defines mucous phenotypes in asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as driven by increased MUC5AC, with MUC5B levels either unaffected or increased in expectorated sputum1,8. However, in many patients, MUC5B production at airway surfaces decreases by as much as 90%9-11. By distinguishing a specific role for Muc5b in MCC, and by determining its impact on bacterial infections and inflammation in mice, our results provide a refined framework for designing targeted therapies to control mucin secretion and restore MCC.
PMCID: PMC4001806  PMID: 24317696
11.  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
12.  Growth in and breakdown of purified rabbit small intestinal mucin by Yersinia enterocolitica. 
Infection and Immunity  1993;61(10):4131-4138.
The mucus lining of the gastrointestinal tract serves as a protective barrier over the epithelial surface that must be crossed by invading bacteria seeking entry into the mucosa. The gel-forming component of mucus is mucin, a large polymeric glycoprotein. The present study examined the growth of Yersinia enterocolitica (with and without its virulence plasmid) in purified rabbit small intestinal mucin and the ability of bacteria to degrade mucin. Both virulent and nonvirulent organisms showed enhanced growth in mucin-supplemented media compared with unsupplemented media, but only at 37 degrees C and not at 25 degrees C. The effects of mucin were not specific because medium supplemented with bovine serum albumin also enhanced bacterial growth at 37 degrees C. Purified mucin was broken down into lower-molecular-weight components (assessed by monitoring its elution profile on a Sepharose CL-2B column) by plasmid-bearing Y. enterocolitica but not by plasmid-cured organisms. Culturing virulent Y. enterocolitica at 25 degrees C completely suppressed its capacity to degrade mucin, suggesting that this activity depends on plasmid expression. These results were confirmed in similar studies with purified rabbit colonic mucin. Mucin-degrading activity could be demonstrated in spent culture media from virulent Y. enterocolitica incubated at 37 degrees C but not in bacterial membrane preparations. Changes in the elution profiles of small intestinal and colonic mucins exposed to plasmid-bearing Y. enterocolitica at 37 degrees C were consistent with proteolytic depolymerization. The ability to grow well in mucin may help Y. enterocolitica to colonize the intestine, while the production of a mucin-degrading enzyme(s) by plasmid-bearing organisms may assist pathogenic strains to solubilize and penetrate the mucus gel layer.
PMCID: PMC281135  PMID: 8406802
13.  The Microstructure and Bulk Rheology of Human Cervicovaginal Mucus are Remarkably Resistant to Changes in pH 
Biomacromolecules  2013;14(12):4429-4435.
The protective barrier, lubricant and clearance functions of mucus are intimately coupled to its microstructure and bulk rheology. Mucus gels consist of a network of mucin biopolymers along with lipids, salts and other proteins, and exhibit similar biochemical and physical properties across diverse mucosal surfaces. Nevertheless, mucus is exposed to a broad range of pH throughout the human body. Protein functions are typically sensitive to small changes in pH, and prior investigations using reconstituted, purified mucin gels suggested mucus transitions from a low viscosity liquid at neutral pH to a highly viscoelastic solid at low pH. We sought to determine whether those observations hold for fresh, minimally-perturbed human mucus ex vivo, by using different-sized muco-inert nanoparticles to probe microstructure, and cone-and-plate rheometry to measure bulk rheology. We demonstrate that both the microstructure and bulk rheology of fresh, undiluted and minimally perturbed cervicovaginal mucus exhibit relatively minor changes from pH 1–2 to 8–9, in marked contrast with the pH sensitivity of purified mucin gels. Our work also suggests additional components in mucus secretions, typically eliminated during mucin purification and reconstitution, may play an important role in maintaining the protective properties of mucus.
PMCID: PMC3918948  PMID: 24266646
biophysics; glycoprotein; microscopy; mucins; multiple particle tracking; nanotechnology
14.  Nitric oxide induces MUC5AC mucin in respiratory epithelial cells through PKC and ERK dependent pathways 
Respiratory Research  2007;8(1):28.
Nitric oxide (NO) is generally increased during inflammatory airway diseases. This increased NO stimulates the secretion of mucin from the goblet cell and submucosal glands but the mechanism is still unknown precisely. In this study, we investigated potential signaling pathways involving protein kinase C (PKC) and mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) in the NO-induced MUC5AC mucin gene and protein expression in A549 cells.
Nitric oxide was donated to the A549 cells by NOR-1. MUC5AC mucin levels were assayed by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). MUC5AC promoter activity was determined by measuring luciferase activity after the lysing the transfected cells. Activation of PKC isoforms were measured by assessing the distribution of the enzyme between cytosolic and membrane fractions using immunoblotting. Immunoblotting experiments using a monoclonal antibody specific to PKC isoforms were performed in the cytosol and membrane fractions from A549 cells. Western blot analysis for pERK and p38 were performed using the corresponding antibodies from the cell lysates after donating NO to the A549 cells by NOR-1.
The transcriptional activity of MUC5AC promoter was maximal at the concentration of 0.1 mM NOR-1 for 1 hour incubation in transfected A549 cells. (±)-(E)-methyl-2-((E)-hydroxyimino)-5-nitro-6-methoxy-3-hexenamide (NOR-1) markedly displaced the protein kinase C (PKC)α and PKCδ from the cytosol to the membrane. Furthermore, the PKC-α,βinhibitors, GÖ6976 (10 nM) and PKCδ inhibitors, rottlerin (4 μM) inhibited the NOR-1 induced migration of PKCα and PKCδ respectively. NOR-1 also markedly increased the MUC5AC promoter activity and mRNA expression, mucin synthesis and ERK1/2 phosphorylation. The PKC inhibitors also inhibited the NOR-1 induced MUC5AC mRNA and MUC5AC protein synthesis by inhibiting the activation of PKCα and PKCδ with ERK1/2 pathways.
Exogenous NO induced the MUC5AC mucin gene and protein through the PKCα and PKCδ – ERK pathways in A549 cells. Inhibition of PKC attenuated NO-mediated MUC5AC mucin synthesis. In view of this findings, PKC inhibitors might be useful in the treatment of bronchial asthma and chronic bronchitis patients where NO and mucus are increased in the bronchial airways.
PMCID: PMC1847818  PMID: 17391532
15.  Effects of Interleukin-9 Blockade on Chronic Airway Inflammation in Murine Asthma Models 
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways associated with structural changes and airway remodeling. Interleukin (IL)-9 has pleiotropic effects on both inflammatory cells and airway structural cells, which are involved in asthma pathogenesis. We evaluated the effects of IL-9 blockade on chronic airway inflammation.
Acute airway inflammation was induced in Balb/c mice using aerosolized ovalbumin (OVA), whereas chronic asthma was induced by OVA exposure for 5 weeks with anti-IL-9 or isotype-matched antibody (Ab) treatment during the OVA challenge. Inflammatory cells in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF) were counted and lung tissues were stained to detect cellular infiltration, mucus deposition, and collagen accumulation. The levels of interferon (IFN)-γ, IL-4, IL-5, IL-9, IL-17, and immunoglobulin E (IgE) in BALF were measured using enzyme linked immunosorbent assays, and profiles of inflammatory cells and subsets of T helper (Th) cells were analyzed using flow cytometry.
IL-9, IL-17, and IFN-γ levels were significantly increased in the chronic group compared to the acute asthma group. However, the number of IL-9-positive cells was not affected, with a decrease in Th17 cells in OVA-challenged caspase-1 knockout mice. Numbers of eosinophils, neutrophils, B cells, mast cells, and Th17 cells decreased after administration of anti-IL-9 Ab. Total IgE, IL-5, IL-9, and IL-17 levels were also lower in the anti-IL-9 group.
Our results suggest that anti-IL-9 Ab treatment inhibits pulmonary infiltration of inflammatory cells and cytokine production, especially IL-17. These results provide a basis for the use of an anti-IL-9 Ab to combat IL-17-mediated airway inflammation.
PMCID: PMC3695233  PMID: 23814672
Interleukin-9; allergic asthma; T helper 17; anti-interleukin-9 antibody
16.  Increased mast cells and neutrophils in submucosal mucous glands and mucus plugging in patients with asthma 
Thorax  2002;57(8):677-682.
Background: Mucus plugging of the airways is invariably seen in cases of fatal asthma, mucus production is associated with asthma attacks, and the area of submucosal glands is increased in asthma. Mediators secreted from mast cells and neutrophils can stimulate mucous gland secretion. A study was undertaken to count the mast cells and neutrophils in submucosal glands and to relate cell numbers to the presence of mucus in the airway lumen.
Methods: Cartilaginous airways obtained at necropsy from cases of fatal asthma (n=8), non-fatal asthma (n=8), and control cases (n=8) were examined. Contiguous transverse sections were stained for mast cell tryptase and neutrophil elastase, and with Periodic Acid Schiff solution to identify mucus. Mucous gland area, lumen area, and the percentage of the relaxed lumen area occupied by mucus (mucus occupying ratio, MOR) were measured. Mast cells (intact and degranulated) and neutrophils per area of submucosal gland were calculated.
Results: Compared with controls, the cases of fatal asthma had increased mucous gland area, MOR, percentage of degranulated mast cells, and numbers of neutrophils in the submucosal glands (p<0.05). In cases of non-fatal asthma the MOR and the numbers of mast cells and neutrophils in the submucosal glands were increased (p<0.05). When all cases were pooled together, the MOR correlated with the total number of mast cells (r=0.55, p=0.005) and with the number of degranulated mast cells in the submucosal glands (r=0.51, p=0.013), but not with the number of neutrophils (r=0.21, p=0.121).
Conclusion: These results show that mucous gland area, MOR, and mucous gland inflammation are increased in asthma and that degranulation of mast cells may contribute to secretion of mucus into the lumen in cases of fatal asthma.
PMCID: PMC1746401  PMID: 12149526
17.  Distribution and partial characterisation of IgG Fc binding protein in various mucin producing cells and body fluids 
Gut  2002;51(2):169-176.
Background and aims: Mucus released from goblet cells is important in intestinal mucosal defence, and mucin glycoproteins are thought to be major components of mucus. Recently, we identified and cloned another component of human colonic mucus, IgG Fc binding protein (FcγBP). FcγBP is immunologically distinct from known Fcγ receptors and its structure contains repeated cysteine rich unit sequences resembling those present in mucins. In this work, we assessed the tissue distribution of FcγBP, its binding activity in various body fluids, and its ability to inhibit complement mediated haemolysis.
Methods: Immunohistochemical localisation of FcγBP, using monoclonal antibodies against FcγBP (K9 or K17) and labelled IgG, was conducted in various mucin producing tissues: colon, small intestine, stomach, gall bladder, cystic duct, choledochus, bronchus, submandibular gland, conjunctiva, and cervix uteri. The binding activity of FcγBP in mucus extracted from colon, gastric juice, bile, nasal discharges, saliva, sputum, and tears was also examined by immunodotblot and immunoprecipitation using these monoclonal antibodies. Inhibition of complement mediated haemolysis by FcγBP was investigated using sheep red blood cells (SRBC) and anti-SRBC IgG.
Results: The immunohistochemical study revealed that mucin secreting cells in the colon, small intestine, gall bladder, cystic duct, choledochus, bronchus, submandibular gland, and cervix uteri contained FcγBP, and immunodotblot and immunoprecipitation analysis using IgG and monoclonal antibodies demonstrated that the fluids secreted by these cells were capable of binding IgG. Mucin producing cells of the conjunctiva did not express FcγBP molecules or bind to IgG. The surface mucus cells in the stomach were variably positive for FcγBP. Perhaps because of proteolytic degradation, FcγBP in gut lavage fluid did not have IgG binding activity, although this activity was present in the mucus covering the colon. FcγBP suppressed complement mediated haemolysis of SRBC.
Conclusions: FcγBP is widely expressed on mucosal surfaces and in external secretions. It is functionally intact in several fluids. These findings lend support to the concept that FcγBP is an important component of mucosal immunological defences.
PMCID: PMC1773314  PMID: 12117874
IgG Fc binding protein; mucin; mucus; goblet cell; mucosal immunity
18.  Aldose Reductase Inhibition Prevents Metaplasia of Airway Epithelial Cells 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(12):e14440.
Goblet cell metaplasia that causes mucus hypersecretion and obstruction in the airway lumen could be life threatening in asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients. Inflammatory cytokines such as IL-13 mediate the transformation of airway ciliary epithelial cells to mucin-secreting goblet cells in acute as well as chronic airway inflammatory diseases. However, no effective and specific pharmacologic treatment is currently available. Here, we investigated the mechanisms by which aldose reductase (AR) regulates the mucus cell metaplasia in vitro and in vivo.
Metaplasia in primary human small airway epithelial cells (SAEC) was induced by a Th2 cytokine, IL-13, without or with AR inhibitor, fidarestat. After 48 h of incubation with IL-13 a large number of SAEC were transformed into goblet cells as determined by periodic acid-schiff (PAS)-staining and immunohistochemistry using antibodies against Mucin5AC. Further, IL-13 significantly increased the expression of Mucin5AC at mRNA and protein levels. These changes were significantly prevented by treatment of the SAEC with AR inhibitor. AR inhibition also decreased IL-13-induced expression of Muc5AC, Muc5B, and SPDEF, and phosphorylation of JAK-1, ERK1/2 and STAT-6. In a mouse model of ragweed pollen extract (RWE)-induced allergic asthma treatment with fidarestat prevented the expression of IL-13, phosphorylation of STAT-6 and transformation of epithelial cells to goblet cells in the lung. Additionally, while the AR-null mice were resistant, wild-type mice showed goblet cell metaplasia after challenge with RWE.
The results show that exposure of SAEC to IL-13 caused goblet cell metaplasia, which was significantly prevented by AR inhibition. Administration of fidarestat to mice prevented RWE-induced goblet cell metaplasia and AR null mice were largely resistant to allergen induced changes in the lung. Thus our results indicate that AR inhibitors such as fidarestat could be developed as therapeutic agents to prevent goblet cell metaplasia in asthma and related pathologies.
PMCID: PMC3010981  PMID: 21203431
19.  Breakdown of Mucin as Barrier to Digestive Enzymes in the Ischemic Rat Small Intestine 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e40087.
Loss of integrity of the epithelial/mucosal barrier in the small intestine has been associated with different pathologies that originate and/or develop in the gastrointestinal tract. We showed recently that mucin, the main protein in the mucus layer, is disrupted during early periods of intestinal ischemia. This event is accompanied by entry of pancreatic digestive enzymes into the intestinal wall. We hypothesize that the mucin-containing mucus layer is the main barrier preventing digestive enzymes from contacting the epithelium. Mucin breakdown may render the epithelium accessible to pancreatic enzymes, causing its disruption and increased permeability. The objective of this study was to investigate the role of mucin as a protection for epithelial integrity and function. A rat model of 30 min splanchnic arterial occlusion (SAO) was used to study the degradation of two mucin isoforms (mucin 2 and 13) and two epithelial membrane proteins (E-cadherin and toll-like receptor 4, TLR4). In addition, the role of digestive enzymes in mucin breakdown was assessed in this model by luminal inhibition with acarbose, tranexamic acid, or nafamostat mesilate. Furthermore, the protective effect of the mucin layer against trypsin-mediated disruption of the intestinal epithelium was studied in vitro. Rats after SAO showed degradation of mucin 2 and fragmentation of mucin 13, which was not prevented by protease inhibition. Mucin breakdown was accompanied by increased intestinal permeability to FITC-dextran as well as degradation of E-cadherin and TLR4. Addition of mucin to intestinal epithelial cells in vitro protected against trypsin-mediated degradation of E-cadherin and TLR4 and reduced permeability of FITC-dextran across the monolayer. These results indicate that mucin plays an important role in the preservation of the mucosal barrier and that ischemia but not digestive enzymes disturbs mucin integrity, while digestive enzymes actively mediate epithelial cell disruption.
PMCID: PMC3387149  PMID: 22768227
20.  Mucin Granule Intraluminal Organization 
Mucus secretions have played a central role in the evolution of multicellular organisms, enabling adaptation to widely differing environments. In vertebrates, mucus covers and protects the epithelial cells in the respiratory, gastrointestinal, urogenital, visual, and auditory systems, amphibian's epidermis, and the gills in fishes. Deregulation of mucus production and/or composition has important consequences for human health. For example, mucus obstruction of small airways is observed in chronic airway diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, and cystic fibrosis. The major protein component in the mucus is a family of large, disulfide-bonded glycoproteins known as gel-forming mucins. These proteins are accumulated in large, regulated secretory granules (the mucin granules) that occupy most of the apical cytoplasm of specialized cells known as mucous/goblet cells. Since mucin oligomers have contour dimensions larger than the mucin granule average diameter, the question arises how these highly hydrophilic macromolecules are organized within these organelles. I review here the intraluminal organization of the mucin granule in view of our knowledge on the structure, biosynthesis, and biophysical properties of gel-forming mucins, and novel imaging studies in living mucous/goblet cells. The emerging concept is that the mucin granule lumen comprises a partially condensed matrix meshwork embedded in a fluid phase where proteins slowly diffuse.
PMCID: PMC2176109  PMID: 16960124
granule matrix; mucin granules; mucins; secretory granules; secretion
21.  mCLCA3 Modulates IL-17 and CXCL-1 Induction and Leukocyte Recruitment in Murine Staphylococcus aureus Pneumonia 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e102606.
The human hCLCA1 and its murine ortholog mCLCA3 (calcium-activated chloride channel regulators) are exclusively expressed in mucus cells and linked to inflammatory airway diseases with increased mucus production, such as asthma, cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Both proteins have a known impact on the mucus cell metaplasia trait in these diseases. However, growing evidence points towards an additional role in innate immune responses. In the current study, we analyzed Staphylococcus aureus pneumonia, an established model to study pulmonary innate immunity, in mCLCA3-deficient and wild-type mice, focusing on the cellular and cytokine-driven innate inflammatory response. We compared clinical signs, bacterial clearance, leukocyte immigration and cytokine responses in the bronchoalveolar compartment, as well as pulmonary vascular permeability, histopathology, mucus cell number and mRNA expression levels of selected genes (mClca1 to 7, Muc5ac, Muc5b, Muc2, Cxcl-1, Cxcl-2, Il-17). Deficiency of mCLCA3 resulted in decreased neutrophilic infiltration into the bronchoalveolar space during bacterial infection. Only the cytokines IL-17 and the murine CXCL-8 homolog CXCL-1 were decreased on mRNA and protein levels during bacterial infection in mCLCA3-deficient mice compared to wild-type controls. However, no differences in clinical outcome, histopathology or mucus cell metaplasia were observed. We did not find evidence for regulation of any other CLCA homolog that would putatively compensate for the lack of mCLCA3. In conclusion, mCLCA3 appears to modulate leukocyte response via IL-17 and murine CXCL-8 homologs in acute Staphylococcus aureus pneumonia which is well in line with the proposed function of hCLCA1 as a signaling molecule acting on alveolar macrophages.
PMCID: PMC4102496  PMID: 25033194
22.  Role of nicotinic receptors and acetylcholine in mucous cell metaplasia, hyperplasia and airway mucus formation in vitro and in vivo 
Airway mucus hypersecretion is a key pathophysiological feature in number of lung diseases. Cigarette smoke/nicotine and allergens are strong stimulators of airway mucus; however, the mechanism of mucus modulation is unclear.
Characterize the pathway by which cigarette smoke/nicotine regulates airway mucus and identify agents that decrease airway mucus.
IL-13 and gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors (GABAARs) are implicated in airway mucus. We examined the role of IL-13 and GABAARs in nicotine-induced mucus formation in normal human bronchial epithelial (NHBE) and A549 cells, and secondhand cigarette smoke and/or ovalbumin-induced mucus formation in vivo.
Nicotine promotes mucus formation in NHBE cells; however, the nicotine-induced mucus formation is independent of IL-13 but sensitive to the GABAAR antagonist picrotoxin (PIC). Airway epithelial cells express α7/α9/α10 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) and specific inhibition or knockdown of α7- but not α9/α10-nAChRs abrogates mucus formation in response to nicotine and IL-13. Moreover, addition of acetylcholine or inhibition of its degradation increases mucus in NHBE cells. Nicotinic but not muscarinic receptor antagonists block allergen or nicotine/cigarette smoke-induced airway mucus formation in NHBE cells and/or in mouse airways.
Nicotine-induced airway mucus formation is independent of IL-13 and α7-nAChRs are critical in airway mucous cell metaplasia/hyperplasia and mucus production in response to various pro-mucoid agents, including IL-13. In the absence of nicotine, acetylcholine may be the biological ligand for α7-nAChRs to trigger airway mucus formation. α7-nAChRs are downstream of IL-13 but upstream of GABAARα2 in the MUC5AC pathway. Acetylcholine and α-7-nAChRs may serve as therapeutic targets to control airway mucus.
PMCID: PMC3419772  PMID: 22578901
cigarette smoke; nicotine; nicotinic acetylcholine receptors; gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors; acetylcholine; airway mucus
23.  Cystic fibrosis airway secretions exhibit mucin hyperconcentration and increased osmotic pressure 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2014;124(7):3047-3060.
The pathogenesis of mucoinfective lung disease in cystic fibrosis (CF) patients likely involves poor mucus clearance. A recent model of mucus clearance predicts that mucus flow depends on the relative mucin concentration of the mucus layer compared with that of the periciliary layer; however, mucin concentrations have been difficult to measure in CF secretions. Here, we have shown that the concentration of mucin in CF sputum is low when measured by immunologically based techniques, and mass spectrometric analyses of CF mucins revealed mucin cleavage at antibody recognition sites. Using physical size exclusion chromatography/differential refractometry (SEC/dRI) techniques, we determined that mucin concentrations in CF secretions were higher than those in normal secretions. Measurements of partial osmotic pressures revealed that the partial osmotic pressure of CF sputum and the retained mucus in excised CF lungs were substantially greater than the partial osmotic pressure of normal secretions. Our data reveal that mucin concentration cannot be accurately measured immunologically in proteolytically active CF secretions; mucins are hyperconcentrated in CF secretions; and CF secretion osmotic pressures predict mucus layer–dependent osmotic compression of the periciliary liquid layer in CF lungs. Consequently, mucin hypersecretion likely produces mucus stasis, which contributes to key infectious and inflammatory components of CF lung disease.
PMCID: PMC4072023  PMID: 24892808
24.  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
25.  A Biophysical Basis for Mucus Solids Concentration as a Candidate Biomarker for Airways Disease 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e87681.
In human airways diseases, including cystic fibrosis (CF) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), host defense is compromised and airways inflammation and infection often result. Mucus clearance and trapping of inhaled pathogens constitute key elements of host defense. Clearance rates are governed by mucus viscous and elastic moduli at physiological driving frequencies, whereas transport of trapped pathogens in mucus layers is governed by diffusivity. There is a clear need for simple and effective clinical biomarkers of airways disease that correlate with these properties. We tested the hypothesis that mucus solids concentration, indexed as weight percent solids (wt%), is such a biomarker. Passive microbead rheology was employed to determine both diffusive and viscoelastic properties of mucus harvested from human bronchial epithelial (HBE) cultures. Guided by sputum from healthy (1.5–2.5 wt%) and diseased (COPD, CF; 5 wt%) subjects, mucus samples were generated in vitro to mimic in vivo physiology, including intermediate range wt% to represent disease progression. Analyses of microbead datasets showed mucus diffusive properties and viscoelastic moduli scale robustly with wt%. Importantly, prominent changes in both biophysical properties arose at ∼4 wt%, consistent with a gel transition (from a more viscous-dominated solution to a more elastic-dominated gel). These findings have significant implications for: (1) penetration of cilia into the mucus layer and effectiveness of mucus transport; and (2) diffusion vs. immobilization of micro-scale particles relevant to mucus barrier properties. These data provide compelling evidence for mucus solids concentration as a baseline clinical biomarker of mucus barrier and clearance functions.
PMCID: PMC3928107  PMID: 24558372

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