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1.  Chitins and Chitosans as Immunoadjuvants and Non-Allergenic Drug Carriers 
Marine Drugs  2010;8(2):292-312.
Due to the fact that some individuals are allergic to crustaceans, the presumed relationship between allergy and the presence of chitin in crustaceans has been investigated. In vivo, chitin is part of complex structures with other organic and inorganic compounds: in arthropods chitin is covalently linked to proteins and tanned by quinones, in fungi it is covalently linked to glucans, while in bacteria chitin is diversely combined according to Gram(+/−) classification. On the other hand, isolated, purified chitin is a plain polysaccharide that, at the nano level, presents itself as a highly associated structure, recently refined in terms of regularity, nature of bonds, crystallinity degree and unusual colloidal behavior. Chitins and modified chitins exert a number of beneficial actions, i.e., (i) they stimulate macrophages by interacting with receptors on the macrophage surface that mediate the internalization of chitin particles to be degraded by lysozyme and N-acetyl-β-glucosaminidase (such as Nod-like, Toll-like, lectin, Dectin-1, leukotriene 134 and mannose receptors); (ii) the macrophages produce cytokines and other compounds that confer non-specific host resistance against bacterial and viral infections, and anti-tumor activity; (iii) chitin is a strong Th1 adjuvant that up-regulates Th1 immunity induced by heat-killed Mycobacterium bovis, while down- regulating Th2 immunity induced by mycobacterial protein; (iv) direct intranasal application of chitin microparticles into the lung was also able to significantly down-regulate allergic response to Dermatophagoids pteronyssinus and Aspergillus fumigatus in a murine model of allergy; (v) chitin microparticles had a beneficial effect in preventing and treating histopathologic changes in the airways of asthmatic mice; (vi) authors support the fact that chitin depresses the development of adaptive type 2 allergic responses. Since the expression of chitinases, chitrotriosidase and chitinase-like proteins is greatly amplified during many infections and diseases, the common feature of chitinase-like proteins and chitinase activity in all organisms appears to be the biochemical defense of the host. Unfortunately, conceptual and methodological errors are present in certain recent articles dealing with chitin and allergy, i.e., (1) omitted consideration of mammalian chitinase and/or chitotriosidase secretion, accompanied by inactive chitinase-like proteins, as an ancestral defensive means against invasion, capable to prevent the insurgence of allergy; (2) omitted consideration of the fact that the mammalian organism recognizes more promptly the secreted water soluble chitinase produced by a pathogen, rather than the insoluble and well protected chitin within the pathogen itself; (3) superficial and incomplete reports and investigations on chitin as an allergen, without mentioning the potent allergen from crustacean flesh, tropomyosine; (4) limited perception of the importance of the chemical/biochemical characteristics of the isolated chitin or chitosan for the replication of experiments and optimization of results; and (5) lack of interdisciplinarity. There is quite a large body of knowledge today on the use of chitosans as biomaterials, and more specifically as drug carriers for a variety of applications: the delivery routes being the same as those adopted for the immunological studies. Said articles, that devote attention to the safety and biocompatibility aspects, never reported intolerance or allergy in individuals and animals, even when the quantities of chitosan used in single experiments were quite large. Therefore, it is concluded that crab, shrimp, prawn and lobster chitins, as well as chitosans of all grades, once purified, should not be considered as “crustacean derivatives”, because the isolation procedures have removed proteins, fats and other contaminants to such an extent as to allow them to be classified as chemicals regardless of their origin.
PMCID: PMC2852840  PMID: 20390107
chitin; chitosan; chitinase; chitinase-like proteins; immunology
2.  Chitin, Chitinases and Chitinase-like Proteins in Allergic Inflammation and Tissue Remodeling 
Yonsei Medical Journal  2009;50(1):22-30.
Chitin, the second most abundant polysaccharide in nature after cellulose, consist exoskeleton of lower organisms such as fungi, crustaceans and insects except mammals. Recently, several studies evaluated immunologic effects of chitin in vivo and in vitro and revealed new aspects of chitin regulation of innate and adaptive immune responses. It has been shown that exogenous chitin activates macrophages and other innate immune cells and also modulates adaptive type 2 allergic inflammation. These studies further demonstrate that chitin stimulate macrophages by interacting with different cell surface receptors such as macrophage mannose receptor, toll-like receptor 2 (TLR-2), C-type lectin receptor Dectin-1, and leukotriene B4 recepptor (BLT1). On the other hand, a number of chitinase or chitinase-like proteins (C/CLP) are ubiquitously expressed in the airways and intestinal tracts from insects to mammals. In general, these chitinase family proteins confer protective functions to the host against exogenous chitin-containing pathogens. However, substantial body of recent studies also set light on new roles of C/CLP in the development and progression of allergic inflammation and tissue remodeling. In this review, recent findings on the role of chitin and C/CLP in allergic inflammation and tissue remodeling will be highlighted and controversial and unsolved issues in this field of studies will be discussed.
PMCID: PMC2649864  PMID: 19259344
Chitin; chitinases; chitinase-like proteins; immunity; remodeling
3.  Fungal Chitin Dampens Inflammation through IL-10 Induction Mediated by NOD2 and TLR9 Activation 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(4):e1004050.
Chitin is an essential structural polysaccharide of fungal pathogens and parasites, but its role in human immune responses remains largely unknown. It is the second most abundant polysaccharide in nature after cellulose and its derivatives today are widely used for medical and industrial purposes. We analysed the immunological properties of purified chitin particles derived from the opportunistic human fungal pathogen Candida albicans, which led to the selective secretion of the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10. We identified NOD2, TLR9 and the mannose receptor as essential fungal chitin-recognition receptors for the induction of this response. Chitin reduced LPS-induced inflammation in vivo and may therefore contribute to the resolution of the immune response once the pathogen has been defeated. Fungal chitin also induced eosinophilia in vivo, underpinning its ability to induce asthma. Polymorphisms in the identified chitin receptors, NOD2 and TLR9, predispose individuals to inflammatory conditions and dysregulated expression of chitinases and chitinase-like binding proteins, whose activity is essential to generate IL-10-inducing fungal chitin particles in vitro, have also been linked to inflammatory conditions and asthma. Chitin recognition is therefore critical for immune homeostasis and is likely to have a significant role in infectious and allergic disease.
Authors Summary
Chitin is the second most abundant polysaccharide in nature after cellulose and an essential component of the cell wall of all fungal pathogens. The discovery of human chitinases and chitinase-like binding proteins indicates that fungal chitin is recognised by cells of the human immune system, shaping the immune response towards the invading pathogen. We show that three immune cell receptors– the mannose receptor, NOD2 and TLR9 recognise chitin and act together to mediate an anti-inflammatory response via secretion of the cytokine IL-10. This mechanism may prevent inflammation-based damage during fungal infection and restore immune balance after an infection has been cleared. By increasing the chitin content in the cell wall pathogenic fungi may influence the immune system in their favour, by down-regulating protective inflammatory immune responses. Furthermore, gene mutations and dysregulated enzyme activity in the described chitin recognition pathway are implicated in inflammatory conditions such as Crohn's Disease and asthma, highlighting the importance of the discovered mechanism in human health.
PMCID: PMC3983064  PMID: 24722226
4.  Chitin Modulates Innate Immune Responses of Keratinocytes 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(2):e16594.
Chitin, after cellulose the second most abundant polysaccharide in nature, is an essential component of exoskeletons of crabs, shrimps and insects and protects these organisms from harsh conditions in their environment. Unexpectedly, chitin has been found to activate innate immune cells and to elicit murine airway inflammation. The skin represents the outer barrier of the human host defense and is in frequent contact with chitin-bearing organisms, such as house-dust mites or flies. The effects of chitin on keratinocytes, however, are poorly understood.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We hypothesized that chitin stimulates keratinocytes and thereby modulates the innate immune response of the skin. Here we show that chitin is bioactive on primary and immortalized keratinocytes by triggering production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines. Chitin stimulation further induced the expression of the Toll-like receptor (TLR) TLR4 on keratinocytes at mRNA and protein level. Chitin-induced effects were mainly abrogated when TLR2 was blocked, suggesting that TLR2 senses chitin on keratinocytes.
We speculate that chitin-bearing organisms modulate the innate immune response towards pathogens by upregulating secretion of cytokines and chemokines and expression of MyD88-associated TLRs, two major components of innate immunity. The clinical relevance of this mechanism remains to be defined.
PMCID: PMC3044707  PMID: 21383982
5.  Chitin Particles Are Multifaceted Immune Adjuvants 
Rationale: Chitin is a ubiquitous polysaccharide in fungi, insects, allergens, and parasites that is released at sites of infection. Its role in the generation of tissue inflammation, however, is not fully understood.
Objectives: We hypothesized that chitin is an important adjuvant for adaptive immunity.
Methods: Mice were injected with a solution of ovalbumin and chitin.
Measurements and Main Results: We used in vivo and ex vivo/in vitro approaches to characterize the ability of chitin fragments to foster adaptive immune responses against ovalbumin and compared these responses to those induced by aluminum hydroxide (alum). In vivo, ovalbumin challenge caused an eosinophil-rich pulmonary inflammatory response, Th2 cytokine elaboration, IgE induction, and mucus metaplasia in mice that had been sensitized with ovalbumin plus chitin or ovalbumin plus alum. Toll-like receptor-2, MyD88, and IL-17A played critical roles in the chitin-induced responses, and MyD88 and IL-17A played critical roles in the alum-induced responses. In vitro, CD4+ T cells from mice sensitized with ovalbumin plus chitin were incubated with ovalbumin-stimulated bone marrow–derived dendritic cells. In these experiments, CD4+ T-cell proliferation, IL-5, IL-13, IFN-γ, and IL-17A production were appreciated. Toll-like receptor-2, MyD88, and IL-17A played critical roles in these in vitro adjuvant properties of chitin. TLR-2 was required for cell proliferation, whereas IL-17 and TLR-2 were required for cytokine elaboration. IL-17A also inhibited the generation of adaptive Th1 responses.
Conclusions: These studies demonstrate that chitin is a potent multifaceted adjuvant that induces adaptive Th2, Th1, and Th17 immune responses. They also demonstrate that the adjuvant properties of chitin are mediated by a pathway(s) that involves and is regulated by TLR-2, MyD88, and IL-17A.
PMCID: PMC3029935  PMID: 20656945
chitin; adjuvant; ovalbumin; aluminum hydroxide; alum
6.  Chitin-Induced Airway Epithelial Cell Innate Immune Responses Are Inhibited by Carvacrol/Thymol 
PLoS ONE  2016;11(7):e0159459.
Chitin is produced in large amounts by fungi, insects, and other organisms and has been implicated in the pathogenesis of asthma. Airway epithelial cells are in direct contact with environmental particles and serve as the first line of defense against inhaled allergens and pathogens. The potential contributions of airway epithelial cells to chitin-induced asthma remain poorly understood. We hypothesized that chitin directly stimulates airway epithelial cells to release cytokines that promote type 2 immune responses and to induce expression of molecules which are important in innate immune responses. We found that chitin exposure rapidly induced the expression of three key type 2-promoting cytokines, IL-25, IL-33 and TSLP, in BEAS-2B transformed human bronchial epithelial cells and in A549 and H292 lung carcinoma cells. Chitin also induced the expression of the key pattern recognition receptors TLR2 and TLR4. Chitin induced the expression of miR-155, miR-146a and miR-21, each of which is known to up-regulate the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Also the expression of SOCS1 and SHIP1 which are known targets of miR-155 was repressed by chitin treatment. The monoterpene phenol carvacrol (Car) and its isomer thymol (Thy) are found in herbal essential oils and have been shown to inhibit allergic inflammation in asthma models. We found that Car/Thy inhibited the effects of chitin on type 2-promoting cytokine release and on the expression of TLRs, SOCS1, SHIP1, and miRNAs. Car/Thy could also efficiently reduce the protein levels of TLR4, inhibit the increase in TLR2 protein levels in chitin plus Car/Thy-treated cells and increase the protein levels of SHIP1 and SOCS1, which are negative regulators of TLR-mediated inflammatory responses. We conclude that direct effects of chitin on airway epithelial cells are likely to contribute to allergic airway diseases like asthma, and that Car/Thy directly inhibits epithelial cell pro-inflammatory responses to chitin.
PMCID: PMC4962986  PMID: 27463381
7.  Complement Component 3C3 and C3a Receptor Are Required in Chitin-Dependent Allergic Sensitization to Aspergillus fumigatus but Dispensable in Chitin-Induced Innate Allergic Inflammation 
mBio  2013;4(2):e00162-13.
Levels of the anaphylatoxin C3a are increased in patients with asthma compared with those in nonasthmatics and increase further still during asthma exacerbations. However, the role of C3a during sensitization to allergen is poorly understood. Sensitization to fungal allergens, such as Aspergillus fumigatus, is a strong risk factor for the development of asthma. Exposure to chitin, a structural polysaccharide of the fungal cell wall, induces innate allergic inflammation and may promote sensitization to fungal allergens. Here, we found that coincubation of chitin with serum or intratracheal administration of chitin in mice resulted in the generation of C3a. We established a model of chitin-dependent sensitization to soluble Aspergillus antigens to test the contribution of complement to these events. C3−/− and C3aR−/− mice were protected from chitin-dependent sensitization to Aspergillus and had reduced lung eosinophilia and type 2 cytokines and serum IgE. In contrast, complement-deficient mice were not protected against chitin-induced innate allergic inflammation. In sensitized mice, plasmacytoid dendritic cells from complement-deficient animals acquired a tolerogenic profile associated with enhanced regulatory T cell responses and suppressed Th2 and Th17 responses specific for Aspergillus. Thus, chitin induces the generation of C3a in the lung, and chitin-dependent allergic sensitization to Aspergillus requires C3aR signaling, which suppresses regulatory dendritic cells and T cells and induces allergy-promoting T cells.
Asthma is one of the fastest growing chronic illnesses worldwide. Chitin, a ubiquitous polymer in our environment and a key component in the cell wall of fungal spores and the exoskeletons of insects, parasites, and crustaceans, triggers innate allergic inflammation. However, there is little understanding of how chitin is initially recognized by mammals and how early recognition of chitin affects sensitization to environmental allergens and development of allergic asthma. The complement system is evolutionarily one of the oldest facets of the early or innate warning systems in mammals. We studied whether and how complement components influence the recognition of chitin and shape the downstream sensitization toward fungal allergens. We show here that complement recognition of chitin plays a critical role in shaping the behavior of dendritic cells, which in turn regulate the function of T cells that mediate allergic responses to fungi.
PMCID: PMC3622928  PMID: 23549917
8.  The Listeria monocytogenes ChiA Chitinase Enhances Virulence through Suppression of Host Innate Immunity 
mBio  2013;4(2):e00617-12.
Environmental pathogens survive and replicate within the outside environment while maintaining the capacity to infect mammalian hosts. For some microorganisms, mammalian infection may be a relatively rare event. Understanding how environmental pathogens retain their ability to cause disease may provide insight into environmental reservoirs of disease and emerging infections. Listeria monocytogenes survives as a saprophyte in soil but is capable of causing serious invasive disease in susceptible individuals. The bacterium secretes virulence factors that promote cell invasion, bacterial replication, and cell-to-cell spread. Recently, an L. monocytogenes chitinase (ChiA) was shown to enhance bacterial infection in mice. Given that mammals do not synthesize chitin, the function of ChiA within infected animals was not clear. Here we have demonstrated that ChiA enhances L. monocytogenes survival in vivo through the suppression of host innate immunity. L. monocytogenes ΔchiA mutants were fully capable of establishing bacterial replication within target organs during the first 48 h of infection. By 72 to 96 h postinfection, however, numbers of ΔchiA bacteria diminished, indicative of an effective immune response to contain infection. The ΔchiA-associated virulence defect could be complemented in trans by wild-type L. monocytogenes, suggesting that secreted ChiA altered a target that resulted in a more permissive host environment for bacterial replication. ChiA secretion resulted in a dramatic decrease in inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) expression, and ΔchiA mutant virulence was restored in NOS2−/− mice lacking iNOS. This work is the first to demonstrate modulation of a specific host innate immune response by a bacterial chitinase.
Bacterial chitinases have traditionally been viewed as enzymes that either hydrolyze chitin as a food source or serve as a defense mechanism against organisms containing structural chitin (such as fungi). Recent evidence indicates that bacterial chitinases and chitin-binding proteins contribute to pathogenesis, primarily via bacterial adherence to chitin-like molecules present on the surface of mammalian cells. In contrast, mammalian chitinases have been linked to immunity via inflammatory immune responses that occur outside the context of infection, and since mammals do not produce chitin, the targets of these mammalian chitinases have remained elusive. This work demonstrates that a Listeria monocytogenes-secreted chitinase has distinct functional roles that include chitin hydrolysis and suppression of host innate immunity. The established link between chitinase and the inhibition of host inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) expression may help clarify the thus far elusive relationship observed between mammalian chitinase enzymes and host inflammatory responses occurring in the absence of infection.
PMCID: PMC3604766  PMID: 23512964
9.  House Dust Mite-Derived Chitin Enhances Th2 Cell Response to Inhaled Allergens, Mainly via a TNF-α-Dependent Pathway 
Chitin is a potent adjuvant in the development of immune response to inhaled allergens in the airways. According to other studies, chitin is known as multi-faced adjuvants which can induce Th2 responses. Recently, we found that TNF-α is a key mediator in the development of Th2 cell response to inhaled allergens. Here, we evaluated the immunologic mechanisms in the development of airway hypersensitivity to inhaled allergens, enhanced by house dust mite (HDM)-derived chitin.
The role of TNF-α and TLRs was evaluated in an airway hypersensitivity mouse model induced by a sensitization with an allergen (ovalbumin, OVA) and HDM-derived chitin using mice with the null mutation of target genes.
The present study showed that airway sensitization with HDM-derived chitin plus OVA enhanced OVA-induced airway inflammation v. OVA alone. This phenotype was associated with the increased expression of Th1, Th2, and Th17 cytokines and also with the enhanced production of OVA-specific IgE, IgG1, and IgG2a. As for T cell responses, OVA-specific Th2 cell response, enhanced by chitin, was abolished by the treatment of chitinase, whereas Th1 and Th17 cell responses enhanced by this treatment. Moreover, the null mutation of the TNF-α gene revealed similar effects as the chitinase treatment. In contrast, all the OVA-specific T cell responses, enhanced by chitin, were blocked by the absence of TLR2, but not of TLR1, TLR4, or TLR6.
In conclusion, these data suggest that HDM-derived chitin may enhance airway hypersensitivity to inhaled allergens, via the TLR2-dependent pathway, and that chitin-induced TNF-α can be a key mediator in the development of Th2 cell response to inhaled allergens.
PMCID: PMC4853514  PMID: 27126730
Chitin; house dust mite; Th2 cell response; TNF-α
Chitin, is a ubiquitous polysaccharide in fungi, insects and parasites. To test the hypothesis that chitin is an important immune modulator, we characterized the ability of chitin fragments to regulate murine macrophage cytokine production in vitro and induce acute inflammation in vivo. Here we show that chitin is a size-dependent stimulator of macrophage interleukin (IL)-17A production and IL-17A receptor (R) expression and demonstrate that these responses are Toll-like Receptor (TLR)-2 and MyD88-dependent. We further demonstrate that IL-17A pathway activation is an essential event in the stimulation of some but not all chitin-stimulated cytokines and that chitin utilizes a TLR-2, MyD88- and IL-17A-dependent mechanism(s) to induce acute inflammation. These studies demonstrate that chitin is a size-dependent pathogen-associated molecular pattern (PAMP) that activates TLR-2 and MyD88 in a novel IL-17A / IL-17AR-based innate immunity pathway.
PMCID: PMC2577310  PMID: 18768886
Monocytes/Macrophages; Cytokines; Inflammation; Lung; Rodent
11.  Chitin Induces Tissue Accumulation of Innate Immune Cells Associated with Allergy 
Nature  2007;447(7140):92-96.
Allergic and parasitic helminth immunity is characterized by infiltration of tissues with IL-4- and IL-13-expressing cells, including Th2 cells, eosinophils and basophils1. Tissue macrophages assume a distinct phenotype, designated alternatively activated macrophages2. Relatively little is known regarding factors that trigger these host responses. Chitin, a widespread environmental biopolymer of N-acetyl-β-D-glucosamine, confers structural rigidity to fungi, crustaceans, helminths and insects3. Here, we show that chitin induces the tissue accumulation of IL-4-expressing innate immune cells, including eosinophils and basophils, when given to mice. Tissue infiltration was unaffected by the absence of Toll-like receptor-mediated LPS recognition and was abolished by treatment of chitin with the IL-4- and IL-13-inducible mammalian chitinase, AMCase4, or by injection into mice that over-expressed AMCase. Chitin mediated alternative macrophage activation in vivo and production of leukotriene B4, which was required for optimal immune cell recruitment. Chitin is a recognition element for tissue infiltration by innate cells implicated in allergic and helminth immunity and this process can be negatively regulated by a vertebrate chitinase.
PMCID: PMC2527589  PMID: 17450126
12.  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
13.  Recognition and Blocking of Innate Immunity Cells by Candida albicans Chitin ▿ †  
Infection and Immunity  2011;79(5):1961-1970.
Chitin is a skeletal cell wall polysaccharide of the inner cell wall of fungal pathogens. As yet, little about its role during fungus-host immune cell interactions is known. We show here that ultrapurified chitin from Candida albicans cell walls did not stimulate cytokine production directly but blocked the recognition of C. albicans by human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and murine macrophages, leading to significant reductions in cytokine production. Chitin did not affect the induction of cytokines stimulated by bacterial cells or lipopolysaccharide (LPS), indicating that blocking was not due to steric masking of specific receptors. Toll-like receptor 2 (TLR2), TLR4, and Mincle (the macrophage-inducible C-type lectin) were not required for interactions with chitin. Dectin-1 was required for immune blocking but did not bind chitin directly. Cytokine stimulation was significantly reduced upon stimulation of PBMCs with heat-killed chitin-deficient C. albicans cells but not with live cells. Therefore, chitin is normally not exposed to cells of the innate immune system but is capable of influencing immune recognition by blocking dectin-1-mediated engagement with fungal cell walls.
PMCID: PMC3088140  PMID: 21357722
14.  Potential role of chitinase 3-like-1 in inflammation-associated carcinogenic changes of epithelial cells 
The family of mammalian chitinases includes members both with and without glycohydrolase enzymatic activity against chitin, a polymer of N-acetylglucosamine. Chitin is the structural component of fungi, crustaceans, insects and parasitic nematodes, but is completely absent in mammals. Exposure to antigens containing chitin- or chitin-like structures sometimes induces strong T helper type-I responses in mammals, which may be associated with the induction of mammalian chitinases. Chitinase 3-like-1 (CHI3L1), a member of the mammalian chitinase family, is induced specifically during the course of inflammation in such disorders as inflammatory bowel disease, hepatitis and asthma. In addition, CHI3L1 is expressed and secreted by several types of solid tumors including glioblastoma, colon cancer, breast cancer and malignant melanoma. Although the exact function of CHI3L1 in inflammation and cancer is still largely unknown, CHI3L1 plays a pivotal role in exacerbating the inflammatory processes and in promoting angiogenesis and remodeling of the extracellular matrix. CHI3L1 may be highly involved in the chronic engagement of inflammation which potentiates development of epithelial tumorigenesis presumably by activating the mitogen-activated protein kinase and the protein kinase B signaling pathways. Anti-CHI3L1 antibodies or pan-chitinase inhibitors may have the potential to suppress CHI3L1-mediated chronic inflammation and the subsequent carcinogenic change in epithelial cells.
PMCID: PMC2776850  PMID: 19908331
Mammals; Chitinase 3-like 1; Colon; Epithelial cells; Inflammation; Colitis; Colon neoplasms; Inflammatory bowel disease
15.  Chitinase family GH18: evolutionary insights from the genomic history of a diverse protein family 
Chitinases (EC. hydrolyze the β-1,4-linkages in chitin, an abundant N-acetyl-β-D-glucosamine polysaccharide that is a structural component of protective biological matrices such as insect exoskeletons and fungal cell walls. The glycoside hydrolase 18 (GH18) family of chitinases is an ancient gene family widely expressed in archea, prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Mammals are not known to synthesize chitin or metabolize it as a nutrient, yet the human genome encodes eight GH18 family members. Some GH18 proteins lack an essential catalytic glutamic acid and are likely to act as lectins rather than as enzymes. This study used comparative genomic analysis to address the evolutionary history of the GH18 multiprotein family, from early eukaryotes to mammals, in an effort to understand the forces that shaped the human genome content of chitinase related proteins.
Gene duplication and loss according to a birth-and-death model of evolution is a feature of the evolutionary history of the GH18 family. The current human family likely originated from ancient genes present at the time of the bilaterian expansion (approx. 550 mya). The family expanded in the chitinous protostomes C. elegans and D. melanogaster, declined in early deuterostomes as chitin synthesis disappeared, and expanded again in late deuterostomes with a significant increase in gene number after the avian/mammalian split.
This comprehensive genomic study of animal GH18 proteins reveals three major phylogenetic groups in the family: chitobiases, chitinases/chitolectins, and stabilin-1 interacting chitolectins. Only the chitinase/chitolectin group is associated with expansion in late deuterostomes. Finding that the human GH18 gene family is closely linked to the human major histocompatibility complex paralogon on chromosome 1, together with the recent association of GH18 chitinase activity with Th2 cell inflammation, suggests that its late expansion could be related to an emerging interface of innate and adaptive immunity during early vertebrate history.
PMCID: PMC1945033  PMID: 17594485
16.  Keeping track of the growing number of biological functions of chitin and its interaction partners in biomedical research 
Glycobiology  2015;25(5):469-482.
Chitin is a vital polysaccharide component of protective structures in many eukaryotic organisms but seems absent in vertebrates. Chitin or chitin oligomers are therefore prime candidates for non-self-molecules, which are recognized and degraded by the vertebrate immune system. Despite the absence of polymeric chitin in vertebrates, chitinases and chitinase-like proteins (CLPs) are well conserved in vertebrate species. In many studies, these proteins have been found to be involved in immune regulation and in mediating the degradation of chitinous external protective structures of invading pathogens. Several important aspects of chitin immunostimulation have recently been uncovered, advancing our understanding of the complex regulatory mechanisms that chitin mediates. Likewise, the last few years have seen large advances in our understanding of the mechanisms and molecular interactions of chitinases and CLPs in relation to immune response regulation. It is becoming increasingly clear that their function in this context is not exclusive to chitin producing pathogens, but includes bacterial infections and cancer signaling as well. Here we provide an overview of the immune signaling properties of chitin and other closely related biomolecules. We also review the latest literature on chitinases and CLPs of the GH18 family. Finally, we examine the existing literature on zebrafish chitinases, and propose the use of zebrafish as a versatile model to complement the existing murine models. This could especially be of benefit to the exploration of the function of chitinases in infectious diseases using high-throughput approaches and pharmaceutical interventions.
PMCID: PMC4373397  PMID: 25595947
chitin; chitinases; chitinase-like proteins; immunogenicity; zebrafish
17.  Lipo-Chitin Oligosaccharides, Plant Symbiosis Signalling Molecules That Modulate Mammalian Angiogenesis In Vitro 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(12):e112635.
Lipochitin oligosaccharides (LCOs) are signaling molecules required by ecologically and agronomically important bacteria and fungi to establish symbioses with diverse land plants. In plants, oligo-chitins and LCOs can differentially interact with different lysin motif (LysM) receptors and affect innate immunity responses or symbiosis-related pathways. In animals, oligo-chitins also induce innate immunity and other physiological responses but LCO recognition has not been demonstrated. Here LCO and LCO-like compounds are shown to be biologically active in mammals in a structure dependent way through the modulation of angiogenesis, a tightly-regulated process involving the induction and growth of new blood vessels from existing vessels. The testing of 24 LCO, LCO-like or oligo-chitin compounds resulted in structure-dependent effects on angiogenesis in vitro leading to promotion, or inhibition or nil effects. Like plants, the mammalian LCO biological activity depended upon the presence and type of terminal substitutions. Un-substituted oligo-chitins of similar chain lengths were unable to modulate angiogenesis indicating that mammalian cells, like plant cells, can distinguish between LCOs and un-substituted oligo-chitins. The cellular mode-of-action of the biologically active LCOs in mammals was determined. The stimulation or inhibition of endothelial cell adhesion to vitronectin or fibronectin correlated with their pro- or anti-angiogenic activity. Importantly, novel and more easily synthesised LCO-like disaccharide molecules were also biologically active and de-acetylated chitobiose was shown to be the primary structural basis of recognition. Given this, simpler chitin disaccharides derivatives based on the structure of biologically active LCOs were synthesised and purified and these showed biological activity in mammalian cells. Since important chronic disease states are linked to either insufficient or excessive angiogenesis, LCO and LCO-like molecules may have the potential to be a new, carbohydrate-based class of therapeutics for modulating angiogenesis.
PMCID: PMC4275186  PMID: 25536397
18.  Chitin stimulates expression of acidic mammalian chitinase and eotaxin-3 by human sinonasal epithelial cells in vitro 
Sinonasal epithelial cells participate in host defense by initiating innate immune mechanisms against potential pathogens. Antimicrobial innate mechanisms have been shown to involve Th1-like inflammatory responses. Although epithelial cells can also be induced by Th2 cytokines to express proeosinophilic mediators, no environmental agents have been identified that promote this effect.
Human sinonasal epithelial cells from patients with chronic rhinosinusitis with nasal polyps (CRSwNPs) and controls were harvested and grown in primary culture. Cell cultures were exposed to a range of concentrations of chitin for 24 hours, and mRNA for acidic mammalian chitinase (AMCase), eotaxin-3, and thymic stromal-derived lymphopoietin (TSLP) were assessed. Other cultures were exposed to interleukin 4 (IL- 4) alone and in combination with dust-mite antigen (DMA) for 36 hours. Extracted mRNA and cell culture supernatant were analyzed for expression of AMCase and eotaxin-3.
Chitin induced a dose-dependent expression of AMCase and eotaxin-3 mRNA but not TSLP. Patients with recalcitrant CRSwNPs showed lower baseline expression of AMCase when compared with treatment-responsive CRSwNP and less induction of AMCase expression by chitin. DMA did not directly induce expression of AMCase or eotaxin-3. Expression of eotaxin-3 was stimulated by IL-4 and further enhanced with the addition of DMA. Levels of AMCase were not significantly affected by either IL-4 or DMA exposure. In some cases, the combination of IL-4 and DMA was able to induce AMCase expression in cell cultures not producing AMCase at baseline.
The abundant biopolymer chitin appears to be recognized by a yet uncharacterized receptor on sinonasal epithelial cells. Chitin stimulates production of AMCase and eotaxin-3, two pro-Th2 effector proteins. This finding suggests the existence of a novel innate immune pathway for local defense against chitin-containing organisms in the sinonasal tract. Dysregulation of this function could precipitate or exacerbate Th2 inflammation, potentially acting as an underlying factor in recalcitrant CRSwNP.
PMCID: PMC2904690  PMID: 19379605
Acidic mammalian chitinase; cell culture; chitin; eosinophils; epithelial cell; rhinitis; rhinosinusitis; sinonasal; Th2
19.  Aspergillus Cell Wall Chitin Induces Anti- and Proinflammatory Cytokines in Human PBMCs via the Fc-γ Receptor/Syk/PI3K Pathway 
mBio  2016;7(3):e01823-15.
Chitin is an important cell wall component of Aspergillus fumigatus conidia, of which hundreds are inhaled on a daily basis. Previous studies have shown that chitin has both anti- and proinflammatory properties; however the exact mechanisms determining the inflammatory signature of chitin are poorly understood, especially in human immune cells. Human peripheral blood mononuclear cells were isolated from healthy volunteers and stimulated with chitin from Aspergillus fumigatus. Transcription and production of the proinflammatory cytokine interleukin-1β (IL-1β) and the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1Ra) were measured from the cell culture supernatant by quantitative PCR (qPCR) or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), respectively. Chitin induced an anti-inflammatory signature characterized by the production of IL-1Ra in the presence of human serum, which was abrogated in immunoglobulin-depleted serum. Fc-γ-receptor-dependent recognition and phagocytosis of IgG-opsonized chitin was identified as a novel IL-1Ra-inducing mechanism by chitin. IL-1Ra production induced by chitin was dependent on Syk kinase and phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) activation. In contrast, costimulation of chitin with the pattern recognition receptor (PRR) ligands lipopolysaccharide, Pam3Cys, or muramyl dipeptide, but not β-glucan, had synergistic effects on the induction of proinflammatory cytokines by human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs). In conclusion, chitin can have both pro- and anti-inflammatory properties, depending on the presence of pathogen-associated molecular patterns and immunoglobulins, thus explaining the various inflammatory signatures reported for chitin.
Invasive aspergillosis and allergic aspergillosis are increasing health care problems. Patients get infected by inhalation of the airborne spores of Aspergillus fumigatus. A profound knowledge of how Aspergillus and its cell wall components are recognized by the host cell and which type of immune response it induces is necessary to develop target-specific treatment options with less severe side effects than the treatment options to date. There is controversy in the literature about the receptor for chitin in human cells. We identified the Fc-γ receptor and Syk/PI3K pathway via which chitin can induce anti-inflammatory immune responses by inducing IL-1 receptor antagonist in the presence of human immunoglobulins but also proinflammatory responses in the presence of bacterial components. This explains why Aspergillus does not induce strong inflammation just by inhalation and rather fulfills an immune-dampening function. While in a lung coinfected with bacteria, Aspergillus augments immune responses by shifting toward a proinflammatory reaction.
PMCID: PMC4895119  PMID: 27247234
20.  Fungal effector Ecp6 outcompetes host immune receptor for chitin binding through intrachain LysM dimerization 
eLife  2013;2:e00790.
While host immune receptors detect pathogen-associated molecular patterns to activate immunity, pathogens attempt to deregulate host immunity through secreted effectors. Fungi employ LysM effectors to prevent recognition of cell wall-derived chitin by host immune receptors, although the mechanism to compete for chitin binding remained unclear. Structural analysis of the LysM effector Ecp6 of the fungal tomato pathogen Cladosporium fulvum reveals a novel mechanism for chitin binding, mediated by intrachain LysM dimerization, leading to a chitin-binding groove that is deeply buried in the effector protein. This composite binding site involves two of the three LysMs of Ecp6 and mediates chitin binding with ultra-high (pM) affinity. Intriguingly, the remaining singular LysM domain of Ecp6 binds chitin with low micromolar affinity but can nevertheless still perturb chitin-triggered immunity. Conceivably, the perturbation by this LysM domain is not established through chitin sequestration but possibly through interference with the host immune receptor complex.
eLife digest
The ability to launch an immune response is not unique to animals. Plants have also evolved the ability to detect molecules present on the surface of pathogens such as fungi. These molecular signatures are known as pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs), and they are detected by specialized receptors on the surface of plant cells.
Chitin, the main structural component of the cell wall in fungi, is one example of a PAMP. Many species of plants are able to detect chitin using receptors that contain sequences of amino acids called lysin motifs. Previous work in the model plant Arabidopsis has shown that chitin binds to a single lysin motif within each plant receptor.
However, just as plants have evolved the ability to recognize PAMPs, so fungi have evolved ways to outwit plants. They have developed small molecules called effector proteins that bind to PAMPs, in effect hiding them from the plant receptors. The tomato fungus Cladosporium fulvum, for example, secretes an effector protein called Ecp6, which contains lysin motifs just like those in the plant receptors. By binding chitin fragments, Ecp6 helps the fungus to avoid detection by its host plant.
Now, Sánchez-Vallet et al. present the high resolution crystal structure of Ecp6 and reveal the mechanism by which it outcompetes the plant’s own chitin receptors. In the presence of chitin, two lysin binding motifs within the Ecp6 protein combine to produce a binding site with ultrahigh affinity for chitin. This can outcompete the plant receptors, which use only a single lysin domain to bind the fungal protein.
As well as providing a molecular explanation for how certain fungi manage to evade the immune response in plants, the work of Sánchez-Vallet et al. offers an unusual example of convergent evolution, in which two evolutionarily distant organisms have evolved the ability to recognize the same molecule through structurally diverse proteins.
PMCID: PMC3700227  PMID: 23840930
Cladosporium; tomato; effector; immunity; receptor; Other
21.  The kinase LYK5 is a major chitin receptor in Arabidopsis and forms a chitin-induced complex with related kinase CERK1 
eLife  null;3:e03766.
Chitin is a fungal microbe-associated molecular pattern recognized in Arabidopsis by a lysin motif receptor kinase (LYK), AtCERK1. Previous research suggested that AtCERK1 is the major chitin receptor and mediates chitin-induced signaling through homodimerization and phosphorylation. However, the reported chitin binding affinity of AtCERK1 is quite low, suggesting another receptor with high chitin binding affinity might be present. Here, we propose that AtLYK5 is the primary chitin receptor in Arabidopsis. Mutations in AtLYK5 resulted in a significant reduction in chitin response. However, AtLYK5 shares overlapping function with AtLYK4 and, therefore, Atlyk4/Atlyk5-2 double mutants show a complete loss of chitin response. AtLYK5 interacts with AtCERK1 in a chitin-dependent manner. Chitin binding to AtLYK5 is indispensable for chitin-induced AtCERK1 phosphorylation. AtLYK5 binds chitin at a much higher affinity than AtCERK1. The data suggest that AtLYK5 is the primary receptor for chitin, forming a chitin inducible complex with AtCERK1 to induce plant immunity.
eLife digest
Invading fungi are responsible for many of the plant diseases that affect global crop production. Plants have to be able to identify these fungi, and activate the right defense strategies if they are to protect themselves. Chitin is a polymer that is found in the cell walls of all fungi, but not in plants, so if the plant detects chitin, it knows that a potentially harmful fungus may be nearby.
The detection of chitin, and the resulting activation of a plant's defenses, requires a receptor protein called CERK1. In rice, CERK1 needs to interact with another receptor protein called CEBiP, which binds to chitin. However, in Arabidopsis thaliana—which is widely studied in plant research—CERK1 can bind to chitin on its own, although this interaction is very weak, so it has been suggested that a second protein may be involved.
Cao et al. have now found that a receptor protein called LYK5, which is very similar to CERK1, is much better at attaching to chitin in A. thaliana. It can also bind to CERK1, but only when chitin is present, and is required for activation of basic plant defenses. The experiments suggest that LYK5 detects chitin on behalf of CERK1, in a similar way to how CEBiP works in rice.
The next step in this research is to work out how CERK1 and LYK5 are able to activate plant defenses.
PMCID: PMC4356144  PMID: 25340959
Arabidoposis; plant innate immunity; chitin receptor; CERK1; LYK5; Arabidopsis
22.  Chitinases from Bacteria to Human: Properties, Applications, and Future Perspectives 
Enzyme Research  2015;2015:791907.
Chitin is the second most plenteous polysaccharide in nature after cellulose, present in cell walls of several fungi, exoskeletons of insects, and crustacean shells. Chitin does not accumulate in the environment due to presence of bacterial chitinases, despite its abundance. These enzymes are able to degrade chitin present in the cell walls of fungi as well as the exoskeletons of insect. They have shown being the potential agents for biological control of the plant diseases caused by various pathogenic fungi and insect pests and thus can be used as an alternative to chemical pesticides. There has been steady increase in demand of chitin derivatives, obtained by action of chitinases on chitin polymer for various industrial, clinical, and pharmaceutical purposes. Hence, this review focuses on properties and applications of chitinases starting from bacteria, followed by fungi, insects, plants, and vertebrates. Designing of chitinase by applying directed laboratory evolution and rational approaches for improved catalytic activity for cost-effective field applications has also been explored.
PMCID: PMC4668315  PMID: 26664744
23.  Chitinases: An update 
Chitin, the second most abundant polysaccharide in nature after cellulose, is found in the exoskeleton of insects, fungi, yeast, and algae, and in the internal structures of other vertebrates. Chitinases are enzymes that degrade chitin. Chitinases contribute to the generation of carbon and nitrogen in the ecosystem. Chitin and chitinolytic enzymes are gaining importance for their biotechnological applications, especially the chitinases exploited in agriculture fields to control pathogens. Chitinases have a use in human health care, especially in human diseases like asthma. Chitinases have wide-ranging applications including the preparation of pharmaceutically important chitooligosaccharides and N-acetyl D glucosamine, preparation of single-cell protein, isolation of protoplasts from fungi and yeast, control of pathogenic fungi, treatment of chitinous waste, mosquito control and morphogenesis, etc. In this review, the various types of chitinases and the chitinases found in different organisms such as bacteria, plants, fungi, and mammals are discussed.
PMCID: PMC3612335  PMID: 23559820
Chitinases; chitinolytic enzymes; endochitinase; exochitinases
24.  miR-71 and miR-263 Jointly Regulate Target Genes Chitin synthase and Chitinase to Control Locust Molting 
PLoS Genetics  2016;12(8):e1006257.
Chitin synthase and chitinase play crucial roles in chitin biosynthesis and degradation during insect molting. Silencing of Dicer-1 results in reduced levels of mature miRNAs and severely blocks molting in the migratory locust. However, the regulatory mechanism of miRNAs in the molting process of locusts has remained elusive. In this study, we found that in chitin metabolism, two crucial enzymes, chitin synthase (CHS) and chitinase (CHT) were regulated by miR-71 and miR-263 during nymph molting. The coding sequence of CHS1 and the 3’-untranslated region of CHT10 contain functional binding sites for miR-71 and miR-263, respectively. miR-71/miR-263 displayed cellular co-localization with their target genes in epidermal cells and directly interacted with CHS1 and CHT10 in the locust integument, respectively. Injections of miR-71 and miR-263 agomirs suppressed the expression of CHS1 and CHT10, which consequently altered chitin production of new and old cuticles and resulted in a molting-defective phenotype in locusts. Unexpectedly, reduced expression of miR-71 and miR-263 increased CHS1 and CHT10 mRNA expression and led to molting defects similar to those induced by miRNA delivery. This study reveals a novel function and balancing modulation pattern of two miRNAs in chitin biosynthesis and degradation, and it provides insight into the underlying molecular mechanisms of the molting process in locusts.
Author Summary
Molting is a crucial process in the growth and development in insects. Disturbing the molting process represents an attractive strategy for developing safe and effective insecticides. The migratory locust is a hemimetabolous pest that undergoes five molting stages in its life cycle. Similar molting defects can be observed in expression silencing of the key genes both in miRNA processing and in chitin metabolism. However, any link between a specific miRNA to chitin metabolism has not yet been established. In this study, we elucidated a mechanism by which two miRNAs regulate chitin metabolism related to the molting process. We found that miR-71 and miR-263 directly repress two genes, chitin synthase1 (CHS1) and chitinase10 (CHT10), which are required for chitin biosynthesis and degradation in chitin metabolism. Manipulation of miR-71 and miR-263 expression blocked molting and resulted in abnormal molting by negatively regulating the expression of LmCHS1 and LmCHT10. Furthermore, both up-regulation and down-regulation of LmCHS1 and LmCHT10 by miRNA manipulation altered the chitin content of the new cuticle and old cuticles, leading to a similar aberrant molting phenotype. Our results demonstrate a balancing modulation pattern of two miRNAs in chitin biosynthesis and degradation that controlled the precise molting process in locusts.
PMCID: PMC4988631  PMID: 27532544
25.  Fungal chitin from asthma-associated home environments induces eosinophilic lung infiltration 
Development of asthma and allergic inflammation involves innate immunity but the environmental contributions remain incompletely defined. Analysis of dust collected from the homes of asthmatic individuals revealed that the polysaccharide chitin is environmentally widespread, and associated with β-glucans, possibly from ubiquitous fungi. Cell wall preparations of Aspergillus isolated from house dust induced robust recruitment of eosinophils into mouse lung, an effect that was attenuated by enzymatic degradation of cell wall chitinand β-glucans. Mice expressing constitutively active acidic mammalian chitinase (AMCase) in the lungs demonstrated a significant reduction in eosinophil infiltration after fungal challenge. Conversely, chitinase inhibition prolonged the duration of tissue eosinophilia. Thus, fungal chitin derived from home environments associated with asthma induces eosinophilic allergic inflammation in the lung, and mammalian chitinases, including AMCase, limit this process.
PMCID: PMC3159725  PMID: 21824866

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