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1.  Differential expression and function of breast regression protein 39 (BRP-39) in murine models of subacute cigarette smoke exposure and allergic airway inflammation 
Respiratory Research  2011;12(1):39.
While the presence of the chitinase-like molecule YKL40 has been reported in COPD and asthma, its relevance to inflammatory processes elicited by cigarette smoke and common environmental allergens, such as house dust mite (HDM), is not well understood. The objective of the current study was to assess expression and function of BRP-39, the murine equivalent of YKL40 in a murine model of cigarette smoke-induced inflammation and contrast expression and function to a model of HDM-induced allergic airway inflammation.
CD1, C57BL/6, and BALB/c mice were room air- or cigarette smoke-exposed for 4 days in a whole-body exposure system. In separate experiments, BALB/c mice were challenged with HDM extract once a day for 10 days. BRP-39 was assessed by ELISA and immunohistochemistry. IL-13, IL-1R1, IL-18, and BRP-39 knock out (KO) mice were utilized to assess the mechanism and relevance of BRP-39 in cigarette smoke- and HDM-induced airway inflammation.
Cigarette smoke exposure elicited a robust induction of BRP-39 but not the catalytically active chitinase, AMCase, in lung epithelial cells and alveolar macrophages of all mouse strains tested. Both BRP-39 and AMCase were increased in lung tissue after HDM exposure. Examining smoke-exposed IL-1R1, IL-18, and IL-13 deficient mice, BRP-39 induction was found to be IL-1 and not IL-18 or IL-13 dependent, while induction of BRP-39 by HDM was independent of IL-1 and IL-13. Despite the importance of BRP-39 in cellular inflammation in HDM-induced airway inflammation, BRP-39 was found to be redundant for cigarette smoke-induced airway inflammation and the adjuvant properties of cigarette smoke.
These data highlight the contrast between the importance of BRP-39 in HDM- and cigarette smoke-induced inflammation. While functionally important in HDM-induced inflammation, BRP-39 is a biomarker of cigarette smoke induced inflammation which is the byproduct of an IL-1 inflammatory pathway.
PMCID: PMC3079621  PMID: 21473774
2.  The Chitinase-like Proteins Breast Regression Protein-39 and YKL-40 Regulate Hyperoxia-induced Acute Lung Injury 
Rationale: Prolonged exposure to 100% O2 causes hyperoxic acute lung injury (HALI), characterized by alveolar epithelial cell injury and death. We previously demonstrated that the murine chitinase-like protein, breast regression protein (BRP)–39 and its human homolog, YKL-40, inhibit cellular apoptosis. However, the regulation and roles of these molecules in hyperoxia have not been addressed.
Objectives: We hypothesized that BRP-39 and YKL-40 (also called chitinase-3–like 1) play important roles in the pathogenesis of HALI.
Methods: We characterized the regulation of BRP-39 during HALI and the responses induced by hyperoxia in wild-type mice, BRP-39–null (−/−) mice, and BRP-39−/− mice in which YKL-40 was overexpressed in respiratory epithelium. We also compared the levels of tracheal aspirate YKL-40 in premature newborns with respiratory failure.
Measurements and Main Results: These studies demonstrate that hyperoxia inhibits BRP-39 in vivo in the murine lung and in vitro in epithelial cells. They also demonstrate that BRP-39−/− mice have exaggerated permeability, protein leak, oxidation, inflammatory, chemokine, and epithelial apoptosis responses, and experience premature death in 100% O2. Lastly, they demonstrate that YKL-40 ameliorates HALI, prolongs survival in 100% O2, and rescues the exaggerated injury response in BRP-39−/− animals. In accord with these findings, the levels of tracheal aspirate YKL-40 were lower in premature infants treated with hyperoxia for respiratory failure who subsequently experienced bronchopulmonary dysplasia or death compared with those that did not experience these complications.
Conclusions: These studies demonstrate that hyperoxia inhibits BRP-39/YKL-40, and that BRP-39 and YKL-40 are critical regulators of oxidant injury, inflammation, and epithelial apoptosis in the murine and human lung.
PMCID: PMC2970863  PMID: 20558631
BRP-39; YKL-40; hyperoxygen; BPD; HALI
3.  Role of breast regression protein 39 (BRP-39)/chitinase 3-like-1 in Th2 and IL-13–induced tissue responses and apoptosis 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  2009;206(5):1149-1166.
Mouse breast regression protein 39 (BRP-39; Chi3l1) and its human homologue YKL-40 are chitinase-like proteins that lack chitinase activity. Although YKL-40 is expressed in exaggerated quantities and correlates with disease activity in asthma and many other disorders, the biological properties of BRP-39/YKL-40 have only been rudimentarily defined. We describe the generation and characterization of BRP-39−/− mice, YKL-40 transgenic mice, and mice that lack BRP-39 and produce YKL-40 only in their pulmonary epithelium. Studies of these mice demonstrated that BRP-39−/− animals have markedly diminished antigen-induced Th2 responses and that epithelial YKL-40 rescues the Th2 responses in these animals. The ability of interleukin13 to induce tissue inflammation and fibrosis was also markedly diminished in the absence of BRP-39. Mechanistic investigations demonstrated that BRP-39 and YKL-40 play an essential role in antigen sensitization and immunoglobulin E induction, stimulate dendritic cell accumulation and activation, and induce alternative macrophage activation. These proteins also inhibit inflammatory cell apoptosis/cell death while inhibiting Fas expression, activating protein kinase B/AKT, and inducing Faim 3. These studies establish novel regulatory roles for BRP-39/YKL-40 in the initiation and effector phases of Th2 inflammation and remodeling and suggest that these proteins are therapeutic targets in Th2- and macrophage-mediated disorders.
PMCID: PMC2715037  PMID: 19414556
4.  Role of breast regression protein-39/YKL-40 in asthma and allergic responses 
BRP-39 and its human homolog YKL-40 have been regarded as a prototype of chitinase-like proteins (CLP) in mammals. Exaggerated levels of YKL-40 protein and/or mRNA have been noted in a number of diseases characterized by inflammation, tissue remodeling, and aberrant cell growth. Asthma is an inflammatory disease characterized by airway hyperresponsiveness and airway remodeling. Recently, the novel regulatory role of BRP-39/YKL-40 in the pathogenesis of asthma has been demonstrated both in human studies and allergic animal models. The levels of YKL-40 are increased in the circulation and lungs from asthmatics where they correlate with disease severity, and CHI3L1 polymorphisms correlate with serum YKL-40 levels, asthma and abnormal lung function. Animal studies using BRP-39 null mutant mice demonstrated that BRP-39 was required for optimal allergen sensitization and Th2 inflammation. These studies suggest the potential use of BRP-39 as a biomarker as well as a therapeutic target for asthma and other allergic diseases. Here, we present an overview of chitin/chitinase biology and summarize recent findings on the role of BRP-39 in the pathogenesis of asthma and allergic responses.
PMCID: PMC2831605  PMID: 20224674
BRP-39; human CHI3L1 protein; asthma; hypersensitivity
5.  The Chitinase-Like Protein YKL-40 Modulates Cystic Fibrosis Lung Disease 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e24399.
The chitinase-like protein YKL-40 was found to be increased in patients with severe asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), two disease conditions featuring neutrophilic infiltrates. Based on these studies and a previous report indicating that neutrophils secrete YKL-40, we hypothesized that YKL-40 plays a key role in cystic fibrosis (CF) lung disease, a prototypic neutrophilic disease. The aim of this study was (i) to analyze YKL-40 levels in human and murine CF lung disease and (ii) to investigate whether YKL-40 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) modulate CF lung disease severity. YKL-40 protein levels were quantified in serum and sputum supernatants from CF patients and control individuals. Levels of the murine homologue BRP-39 were analyzed in airway fluids from CF-like βENaC-Tg mice. YKL-40SNPs were analyzed in CF patients. YKL-40 levels were increased in sputum supernatants and in serum from CF patients compared to healthy control individuals. Within CF patients, YKL-40 levels were higher in sputum than in serum. BRP-39 levels were increased in airways fluids from βENaC-Tg mice compared to wild-type littermates. In both CF patients and βENaC-Tg mice, YKL-40/BRP-39 airway levels correlated with the severity of pulmonary obstruction. Two YKL-40 SNPs (rs871799 and rs880633) were found to modulate age-adjusted lung function in CF patients. YKL-40/BRP-39 levelsare increased in human and murine CF airway fluids, correlate with pulmonary function and modulate CF lung disease severity genetically. These findings suggest YKL-40 as a potential biomarker in CF lung disease.
PMCID: PMC3176766  PMID: 21949714
6.  Exacerbation of Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis in the Absence of Breast Regression Protein-39/Chitinase 3-like-1 
We previously reported that YKL-40, the human analog of mouse breast regression protein-39 (BRP-39; chitinase 3-like 1), is elevated in the cerebrospinal fluid of patients with a variety of neuroinflammatory conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury. YKL-40 expression in the CNS was predominantly associated with reactive astrocytes in the vicinity of inflammatory lesions. Because previous studies have shown that reactive astrocytes play a critical role in limiting immune infiltration in the mouse model of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), we explored the role of BRP-39 in regulating neuroinflammation in EAE. Using BRP-39-deficient mice (BRP-39−/−), we demonstrate the importance of BRP-39 in modulating the severity of clinical EAE and CNS neuroinflammation. At disease onset, absence of BRP-39 had little effect on clinical disease or lymphocytic infiltrate, but by 14 days post-immunization (dpi), differences in clinical scores were evident. By 28 dpi, BRP-39−/− mice showed more severe and persistent clinical disease than BRP-39+/+ controls. Histopathological evaluation showed that BRP-39−/− mice had more marked lymphocytic and macrophage infiltrates and gliosis vs. BRP-39+/+ mice. These findings support the role of BRP-39 expression in limiting immune cell infiltration into the CNS and offer a new target to modulate neuroinflammation.
PMCID: PMC3481009  PMID: 23041842
BRP-39; Chitinase-like proteins; Experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis; Multiple sclerosis; Neuroimmunology; YKL-40
7.  Breast regression protein-39 (BRP-39) promotes dendritic cell maturation in vitro and enhances Th2 inflammation in murine model of asthma 
Acta Pharmacologica Sinica  2012;33(12):1525-1532.
To determine the roles of breast regression protein-39 (BRP-39) in regulating dendritic cell maturation and in pathology of acute asthma.
Mouse bone marrow-derived dendritic cells (BMDCs) were prepared, and infected with adenovirus over-expressing BRP-39. Ovalbumin (OVA)-induced murine model of acute asthma was made in female BALB/c mice by sensitizing and challenging with chicken OVA and Imject Alum. The transfected BMDCs were adoptively transferred into OVA-treated mice via intravenous injection. Airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR), inflammation and pulmonary histopathology were characterized.
The expression of BRP-39 mRNA and protein was significantly increased in lung tissues of OVA-treated mice. The BMDCs infected with adenovirus BRP-39 exhibited greater maturation and higher activity in vitro. Adoptive transfer of the cells into OVA-treated mice significantly augmented OVA-induced AHR and eosinophilic inflammation. Meanwhile, BRP-39 further enhanced the production of OVA-induced Th2 cytokines IL-4, IL-5 and IL-13, but significantly attenuated OVA-induced IFN-γ production in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid.
In OVA-induced murine model of acute asthma, BRP-39 is over-expressed in lung tissue and augments Th2 inflammatory response and AHR. BRP-39 promotes dendritic cell maturation in vitro. Therefore, BRP-39 may be a potential therapeutic target of asthma.
PMCID: PMC4001840  PMID: 23178461
asthma; ovalbumin; bone marrow-derived dendritic cells (BMDCs); breast regression protein-39 (BRP-39); YKL-40; Th2 inflammation; airway hyperresponsiveness; bronchoalveolar lavage fluid
8.  Overexpression of Chitinase 3-Like 1/YKL-40 in Lung-Specific IL-18-Transgenic Mice, Smokers and COPD 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e24177.
We analyzed the lung mRNA expression profiles of a murine model of COPD developed using a lung-specific IL-18-transgenic mouse. In this transgenic mouse, the expression of 608 genes was found to vary more than 2-fold in comparison with control WT mice, and was clustered into 4 groups. The expression of 140 genes was constitutively increased at all ages, 215 genes increased gradually with aging, 171 genes decreased gradually with aging, and 82 genes decreased temporarily at 9 weeks of age. Interestingly, the levels of mRNA for the chitinase-related genes chitinase 3-like 1 (Chi3l1), Chi3l3, and acidic mammalian chitinase (AMCase) were significantly higher in the lungs of transgenic mice than in control mice. The level of Chi3l1 protein increased significantly with aging in the lungs and sera of IL-18 transgenic, but not WT mice. Previous studies have suggested Chi3l3 and AMCase are IL-13-driven chitinase-like proteins. However, IL-13 gene deletion did not reduce the level of Chi3l1 protein in the lungs of IL-18 transgenic mice. Based on our murine model gene expression data, we analyzed the protein level of YKL-40, the human homolog of Chi3l1, in sera of smokers and COPD patients. Sixteen COPD patients had undergone high resolution computed tomography (HRCT) examination. Emphysema was assessed by using a density mask with a cutoff of −950 Hounsfield units to calculate the low-attenuation area percentage (LAA%). We observed significantly higher serum levels in samples from 28 smokers and 45 COPD patients compared to 30 non-smokers. In COPD patients, there was a significant negative correlation between serum level of YKL-40 and %FEV1. Moreover, there was a significant positive correlation between the serum levels of YKL-40 and LAA% in COPD patients. Thus our results suggest that chitinase-related genes may play an important role in establishing pulmonary inflammation and emphysematous changes in smokers and COPD patients.
PMCID: PMC3168485  PMID: 21915293
9.  Hyperoxia Exacerbates Postnatal Inflammation-Induced Lung Injury in Neonatal BRP-39 Null Mutant Mice Promoting the M1 Macrophage Phenotype 
Mediators of Inflammation  2013;2013:457189.
Rationale. Hyperoxia exposure to developing lungs—critical in the pathogenesis of bronchopulmonary dysplasia—may augment lung inflammation by inhibiting anti-inflammatory mediators in alveolar macrophages. Objective. We sought to determine the O2-induced effects on the polarization of macrophages and the role of anti-inflammatory BRP-39 in macrophage phenotype and neonatal lung injury. Methods. We used RAW264.7, peritoneal, and bone marrow derived macrophages for polarization (M1/M2) studies. For in vivo studies, wild-type (WT) and BRP-39−/− mice received continuous exposure to 21% O2 (control mice) or 100% O2 from postnatal (PN) 1 to PN7 days, along with intranasal lipopolysaccharide (LPS) administered on alternate days (PN2, -4, and -6). Lung histology, bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) cell counts, BAL protein, and cytokines measurements were performed. Measurements and Main Results. Hyperoxia differentially contributed to macrophage polarization by enhancing LPS induced M1 and inhibiting interleukin-4 induced M2 phenotype. BRP-39 absence led to further enhancement of the hyperoxia and LPS induced M1 phenotype. In addition, BRP-39−/− mice were significantly more sensitive to LPS plus hyperoxia induced lung injury and mortality compared to WT mice. Conclusions. These findings collectively indicate that BRP-39 is involved in repressing the M1 proinflammatory phenotype in hyperoxia, thereby deactivating inflammatory responses in macrophages and preventing neonatal lung injury.
PMCID: PMC3855965  PMID: 24347826
10.  A gene expression signature of emphysema-related lung destruction and its reversal by the tripeptide GHK 
Genome Medicine  2012;4(8):67.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a heterogeneous disease consisting of emphysema, small airway obstruction, and/or chronic bronchitis that results in significant loss of lung function over time.
In order to gain insights into the molecular pathways underlying progression of emphysema and explore computational strategies for identifying COPD therapeutics, we profiled gene expression in lung tissue samples obtained from regions within the same lung with varying amounts of emphysematous destruction from smokers with COPD (8 regions × 8 lungs = 64 samples). Regional emphysema severity was quantified in each tissue sample using the mean linear intercept (Lm) between alveolar walls from micro-CT scans.
We identified 127 genes whose expression levels were significantly associated with regional emphysema severity while controlling for gene expression differences between individuals. Genes increasing in expression with increasing emphysematous destruction included those involved in inflammation, such as the B-cell receptor signaling pathway, while genes decreasing in expression were enriched in tissue repair processes, including the transforming growth factor beta (TGFβ) pathway, actin organization, and integrin signaling. We found concordant differential expression of these emphysema severity-associated genes in four cross-sectional studies of COPD. Using the Connectivity Map, we identified GHK as a compound that can reverse the gene-expression signature associated with emphysematous destruction and induce expression patterns consistent with TGFβ pathway activation. Treatment of human fibroblasts with GHK recapitulated TGFβ-induced gene-expression patterns, led to the organization of the actin cytoskeleton, and elevated the expression of integrin β1. Furthermore, addition of GHK or TGFβ restored collagen I contraction and remodeling by fibroblasts derived from COPD lungs compared to fibroblasts from former smokers without COPD.
These results demonstrate that gene-expression changes associated with regional emphysema severity within an individual's lung can provide insights into emphysema pathogenesis and identify novel therapeutic opportunities for this deadly disease. They also suggest the need for additional studies to examine the mechanisms by which TGFβ and GHK each reverse the gene-expression signature of emphysematous destruction and the effects of this reversal on disease progression.
PMCID: PMC4064320  PMID: 22937864
11.  Apoptotic mechanisms in the pathogenesis of COPD 
COPD is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality, characterized by a chronic abnormal inflammatory response to noxious agents. Apoptosis is a physiologic process, critical to cellular homeostasis, in which cell death follows a programmed sequence of events. Apoptosis has been recognized to play an important role in clinical and experimental models of lung diseases. Abnormal apoptotic events in smokers’ and in emphysematous lungs have been shown in epithelial and endothelial lung cells, neutrophils, lymphocytes, and myocytes. Many factors associated with COPD, including cigarette smoke, have the potential to cause apoptosis of alveolar epithelial cells, the main sites of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) production. The decreased expression of VEGF, a known survival factor for endothelial cells, and its receptor, results in lung septal endothelial cell death, leading perhaps to the emphysema observed in COPD. In smokers who develop COPD there is an activation of adaptive immunity, with an infiltration of CD4+ and, especially, CD8 + cells. CD8 + cells are cytotoxic to epithelial cells through the release of granzymes and perforin, which can further induce apoptosis of alveolar cells. Moreover, any reduction in neutrophil apoptosis or dysregulation of macrophage uptake of apoptotic neutrophils could lead to chronic inflammation and tissue injury. Increased rates of T-cell apoptosis may lead to a defective immune response to infective organisms, contributing to the high frequency of infections seen in COPD. Increased apoptosis of skeletal muscle could be responsible for the skeletal muscle atrophy, the main cause of unexplained weight loss in patients with COPD. This paper is a review of the current knowledge on the apoptotic pathways involved in COPD pathogenesis and their interaction with other known contributing factors.
PMCID: PMC2706617  PMID: 18046893
apoptosis; cell death; COPD; emphysema; epithelial cells; lymphocytes; neutrophils
12.  Persistence of Th17/Tc17 Cell Expression upon Smoking Cessation in Mice with Cigarette Smoke-Induced Emphysema 
Th17 and Tc17 cells may be involved in the pathogenesis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a disease caused predominantly by cigarette smoking. Smoking cessation is the only intervention in the management of COPD. However, even after cessation, the airway inflammation may be present. In the current study, mice were exposed to room air or cigarette smoke for 24 weeks or 24 weeks followed by 12 weeks of cessation. Morphological changes were evaluated by mean linear intercepts (Lm) and destructive index (DI). The frequencies of CD8+IL-17+(Tc17) and CD4+IL-17+(Th17) cells, the mRNA levels of ROR gamma and IL-17, and the levels of IL-8, TNF-alpha, and IFN-gamma in lungs or bronchoalveolar lavage fluid of mice were assayed. Here we demonstrated that alveolar enlargement and destruction induced by cigarette smoke exposure were irreversible and that cigarette smokeenhanced these T-cell subsets, and related cytokines were not significantly reduced after smoking cessation. In addition, the frequencies of Th17 and Tc17 cells in lungs of smoke-exposed mice and cessation mice were positively correlated with emphysematous lesions. More important, the frequencies of Tc17 cells were much higher than Th17 cells, and there was a significantly positive correlation between Th17 and Tc17. These results suggested that Th17/Tc17 infiltration in lungs may play a critical role in sustaining lung inflammation in emphysema. Blocking the abnormally increased numbers of Tc17 and Th17 cells may be a reasonable therapeutic strategy for emphysema.
PMCID: PMC3893777  PMID: 24489575
13.  Plasma YKL-40 and all-cause mortality in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is hallmarked by inflammatory processes and a progressive decline of lung function. YKL-40 is a potential biomarker of inflammation and mortality in patients suffering from inflammatory lung disease, but its prognostic value in patients with COPD remains unknown. We investigated whether high plasma YKL-40 was associated with increased mortality in patients with moderate to very severe COPD.
Four hundred and ninety-three patients with moderate to very severe COPD were followed prospectively for up to 10 years. Patients were divided into two groups according to plasma YKL-40: concentration higher than the 75th percentile for age-matched healthy subjects (i.e. high levels) and normal levels. Outcome was overall survival (OS) and was evaluated in uni- and multivariate proportional hazards Cox regression analyses and adjusted for factors affecting mortality.
Median plasma YKL-40 was increased in patients with COPD (81 ng/ml, p < 0.001) compared to healthy subjects (40 ng/ml). Patients with high plasma YKL-40 had a hazard ratio (HR) of 1.42 (95% CI: 1.15–1.75, p = 0.001) for all-cause mortality. Multivariate analysis showed that YKL-40 (HR 1.38; 95% CI: 1.11–1.72, p = 0.004), age (HR 1.05; 95% CI: 1.03–1.06, p < 0.0001), Severe COPD (HR 1.35; 95 CI: 1.03-1.76, p = 0.03) very severe COPD (HR 2.19; 95% CI: 1.60 - 2.99 < 0.0001), neutrophil granulocyte count (HR 1.05; 95% CI: 1.01-1.08, p = 0.01), and a smoking history of > 40 years (HR 1.38; 95% CI: 1.11-1.71, p = 0.003) were independent prognostic markers of OS.
High plasmaYKL-40 is associated with increased mortality in patients with moderate to very severe COPD, suggesting a role for YKL-40 as a potential biomarker of mortality in this patient group.
Trial registration NCT00132860.
PMCID: PMC3890498  PMID: 24373580
COPD; Inflammation; Mortality; Prognosis; YKL-40
14.  The relation of circulating YKL-40 to levels and decline of lung function in adult life 
Respiratory medicine  2013;107(12):10.1016/j.rmed.2013.07.013.
YKL-40 is a chitinase-like protein that, in cross-sectional clinical studies, has been associated with severe asthma and COPD in smokers.
To determine the longitudinal relation of circulating YKL-40 to levels and lung function decline in the general population.
We used longitudinal data from up to 12 surveys from the population-based TESAOD study which was conducted in Tucson, Arizona between 1972-1996. In cross-sectional analyses, we also used data from 3 Spanish centers of the multicenter ECRHS study (ECRHS-Sp). Serum YKL-40 was measured at baseline in TESAOD and in survey 2 in ECRHS-Sp using ELISAs. Multivariate linear regression was used to test associations of serum YKL-40 to concomitant lung function. In TESAOD, random coefficients models were used to test associations of serum YKL-40 to subsequent decline of lung function.
Data on YKL-40 and lung function were available from 1088 TESAOD and 854 ECRHS-Sp adult participants (59% and 51% females; respectively). In adjusted multivariate meta-analyses, being in the highest YKL-40 quartile was associated cross-sectionally with significant deficits in FEV1 and FVC %predicted. In adjusted longitudinal analyses, TESAOD participants in the top YKL-40 quartile had an FEV1 decline that was 5 ml/yr (p=0.05) faster than subjects in the third quartile, 5 ml/yr (p=0.02) faster than subjects in the second quartile, and 10 ml/yr (p<0.001) faster than subjects in the lowest YKL-40 quartile. These longitudinal effects were particularly strong in smokers and absent in never smokers. After adjusting for covariates, as compared with the other three quartiles combined the top YKL-40 quartile was associated with a 9 ml/yr (p=0.001) faster FEV1 decline among smokers, while no significant effects were found among never smokers (2 ml/yr, p=0.35).
Circulating YKL-40 is associated with levels and decline of lung function in the general population and may be a biomarker of susceptibility to the long-term effects of cigarette smoking.
PMCID: PMC3864627  PMID: 23920328
YKL-40; lung function; smoking
15.  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
16.  Sustained CTL activation by murine pulmonary epithelial cells promotes the development of COPD-like disease 
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lethal progressive lung disease culminating in permanent airway obstruction and alveolar enlargement. Previous studies suggest CTL involvement in COPD progression; however, their precise role remains unknown. Here, we investigated whether the CTL activation receptor NK cell group 2D (NKG2D) contributes to the development of COPD. Using primary murine lung epithelium isolated from mice chronically exposed to cigarette smoke and cultured epithelial cells exposed to cigarette smoke extract in vitro, we demonstrated induced expression of the NKG2D ligand retinoic acid early transcript 1 (RAET1) as well as NKG2D-mediated cytotoxicity. Furthermore, a genetic model of inducible RAET1 expression on mouse pulmonary epithelial cells yielded a severe emphysematous phenotype characterized by epithelial apoptosis and increased CTL activation, which was reversed by blocking NKG2D activation. We also assessed whether NKG2D ligand expression corresponded with pulmonary disease in human patients by staining airway and peripheral lung tissues from never smokers, smokers with normal lung function, and current and former smokers with COPD. NKG2D ligand expression was independent of NKG2D receptor expression in COPD patients, demonstrating that ligand expression is the limiting factor in CTL activation. These results demonstrate that aberrant, persistent NKG2D ligand expression in the pulmonary epithelium contributes to the development of COPD pathologies.
PMCID: PMC2648699  PMID: 19197141
17.  Cigarette Smoke–Induced Egr-1 Upregulates Proinflammatory Cytokines in Pulmonary Epithelial Cells 
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide and is a progressive and irreversible disorder. Cigarette smoking is associated with 80–90% of COPD cases; however, the genes involved in COPD-associated emphysema and chronic inflammation are poorly understood. It was recently demonstrated that early growth response gene 1 (Egr-1) is significantly upregulated in the lungs of smokers with COPD (Ning W and coworkers, Proc Natl Acad Sci 2004;101:14895–14900). We hypothesized that Egr-1 is activated in pulmonary epithelial cells during exposure to cigarette smoke extract (CSE). Using immunohistochemistry, we demonstrated that pulmonary adenocarcinoma cells (A-549) and primary epithelial cells lacking basal Egr-1 markedly induce Egr-1 expression after CSE exposure. To evaluate Egr-1–specific effects, we used antisense (αS) oligodeoxynucleotides (ODN) to knock down Egr-1 expression. Incorporation of Egr-1 αS ODN significantly decreased CSE-induced Egr-1 mRNA and protein, while sense ODN had no effect. Via Egr-1–mediated mechanisms, IL-1β and TNF-α were significantly upregulated in pulmonary epithelial cells exposed to CSE or transfected with Egr-1. To investigate the relationship between Egr-1 induction by smoking and susceptibility to emphysema, we determined Egr-1 expression in strains of mice with different susceptibilities for the development of smoking-induced emphysema. Egr-1 was markedly increased in the lungs of emphysema-susceptible AKR/J mice chronically exposed to cigarette smoke, but only minimally increased in resistant NZWLac/J mice. In conclusion, Egr-1 is induced by cigarette smoke and functions in proinflammatory mechanisms that likely contribute to the development of COPD in the lungs of smokers.
PMCID: PMC2643284  PMID: 16601242
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; Egr-1; gene expression; inflammation; pulmonary
18.  Human YKL-39 is a pseudo-chitinase with retained chitooligosaccharide-binding properties 
The Biochemical journal  2012;446(1):149-157.
The chitinase-like proteins YKL-39 (chitinase 3-like-2) and YKL-40 (chitinase 3-like-1) are highly expressed in a number of human cells independent of their origin (mesenchymal, epithelial or haemapoietic). Elevated serum levels of YKL-40 have been associated with a negative outcome in a number of diseases ranging from cancer to inflammation and asthma. YKL-39 expression has been associated with osteoarthritis. However, despite the reported association with disease, the physiological or pathological role of these proteins is still very poorly understood. Although YKL-39 is homologous to the two family 18 chitinases in the human genome, it has been reported to lack any chitinase activity. In the present study, we show that human YKL-39 possesses a chitinase-like fold, but lacks key active-site residues required for catalysis. A glycan screen identified oligomers of N-acetylglucosamine as preferred binding partners. YKL-39 binds chitooligosaccharides and a newly synthesized derivative of the bisdionin chitinase-inhibitor class with micromolar affinity, through a number of conserved tryptophan residues. Strikingly, the chitinase activity of YKL-39 was recovered by reverting two non-conservative substitutions in the active site to those found in the active enzymes, suggesting that YKL-39 is a pseudo-chitinase with retention of chitinase-like ligand-binding properties.
PMCID: PMC3513709  PMID: 22742450
chitinase; chitinase-like proteins; glycan; glycan array; glycobiology; protein structure; lectin; X-ray crystallography
19.  Integrative Analysis of DNA Methylation and Gene Expression Data Identifies EPAS1 as a Key Regulator of COPD 
PLoS Genetics  2015;11(1):e1004898.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a complex disease. Genetic, epigenetic, and environmental factors are known to contribute to COPD risk and disease progression. Therefore we developed a systematic approach to identify key regulators of COPD that integrates genome-wide DNA methylation, gene expression, and phenotype data in lung tissue from COPD and control samples. Our integrative analysis identified 126 key regulators of COPD. We identified EPAS1 as the only key regulator whose downstream genes significantly overlapped with multiple genes sets associated with COPD disease severity. EPAS1 is distinct in comparison with other key regulators in terms of methylation profile and downstream target genes. Genes predicted to be regulated by EPAS1 were enriched for biological processes including signaling, cell communications, and system development. We confirmed that EPAS1 protein levels are lower in human COPD lung tissue compared to non-disease controls and that Epas1 gene expression is reduced in mice chronically exposed to cigarette smoke. As EPAS1 downstream genes were significantly enriched for hypoxia responsive genes in endothelial cells, we tested EPAS1 function in human endothelial cells. EPAS1 knockdown by siRNA in endothelial cells impacted genes that significantly overlapped with EPAS1 downstream genes in lung tissue including hypoxia responsive genes, and genes associated with emphysema severity. Our first integrative analysis of genome-wide DNA methylation and gene expression profiles illustrates that not only does DNA methylation play a ‘causal’ role in the molecular pathophysiology of COPD, but it can be leveraged to directly identify novel key mediators of this pathophysiology.
Author Summary
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a common lung disease. It is the fourth leading cause of death in the world and is expected to be the third by 2020. COPD is a heterogeneous and complex disease consisting of obstruction in the small airways, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis. COPD is generally caused by exposure to noxious particles or gases, most commonly from cigarette smoking. However, only 20–25% of smokers develop clinically significant airflow obstruction. Smoking is known to cause epigenetic changes in lung tissues. Thus, genetics, epigenetic, and their interaction with environmental factors play an important role in COPD pathogenesis and progression. Currently, there are no therapeutics that can reverse COPD progression. In order to identify new targets that may lead to the development of therapeutics for curing COPD, we developed a systematic approach to identify key regulators of COPD that integrates genome-wide DNA methylation, gene expression, and phenotype data in lung tissue from COPD and control samples. Our integrative analysis identified 126 key regulators of COPD. We identified EPAS1 as the only key regulator whose downstream genes significantly overlapped with multiple genes sets associated with COPD disease severity.
PMCID: PMC4287352  PMID: 25569234
20.  The role of small heat-shock protein αB-crystalline (HspB5) in COPD pathogenesis 
αB-crystallin (HspB5) is a chaperone whose role as a marker of innate immunity activation as well as its therapeutic potential have recently been investigated in several inflammatory diseases: multiple sclerosis, myocardial ischemia, and Guillain–Barré syndrome.
The aim of this study is to determine the role of αB-crystallin in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) pathogenesis and inflammation.
Plasma levels of αB-crystallin were studied in 163 patients: 52 healthy non-COPD smokers; 20 COPD smokers in Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) stages I–II; 43 COPD smokers in GOLD stages III-IV. Forty-eight patients were diagnosed with acute inflammatory respiratory disease. The plasma levels of αB-crystallin antibodies were determined by an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (Calbiochem), and were confirmed with Western blotting. Tissue expression of the protein was compared in three different groups of patients: COPD smokers, COPD nonsmokers, and in patients with age-related emphysema.
The mean level of anti-αB-crystallin antibodies in non-COPD smokers was 0.291nm. In COPD smokers it was 0.352 nm and, in patients with inflammatory lung diseases, 0.433 nm. There was a statistically significant difference between COPD smokers and healthy non-COPD smokers (P = 0.010). The same could be observed comparing the group of patients with acute inflammation and non-COPD healthy smokers (P = 0.007). There was no statistically significant difference between patients with mild/moderate inflammation and those with severe COPD. Tissue detection of the protein showed that it was significantly overexpressed in COPD smokers in comparison to COPD nonsmokers and was only slightly expressed in patients with age-related emphysema.
αB-crystallin is increased in patients with inflammatory lung diseases. Though unspecific, it could be used in a panel of markers discerning COPD smokers from healthy nonsmokers. As αB-crystallin is a regulator of innate immunity and a therapeutic anti-inflammatory agent, its exact role in COPD pathogenesis and therapy should be explored further.
PMCID: PMC3468058  PMID: 23055712
COPD; HspB5; chaperonopathology; pathogenesis
21.  Lung endothelial monocyte-activating protein 2 is a mediator of cigarette smoke–induced emphysema in mice 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2011;121(6):2470-2479.
Pulmonary emphysema is a disease characterized by alveolar cellular loss and inflammation. Recently, excessive apoptosis of structural alveolar cells has emerged as a major mechanism in the development of emphysema. Here, we investigated the proapoptotic and monocyte chemoattractant cytokine endothelial monocyte-activating protein 2 (EMAPII). Lung-specific overexpression of EMAPII in mice caused simplification of alveolar structures, apoptosis, and macrophage accumulation, compared with that in control transgenic mice. Additionally, in a mouse model of cigarette smoke–induced (CS-induced) emphysema, EMAPII levels were significantly increased in murine lungs. This upregulation was necessary for emphysema development, as neutralizing antibodies to EMAPII resulted in reduced alveolar cell apoptosis, inflammation, and emphysema-associated structural changes in alveoli and small airways and improved lung function. The mechanism of EMAPII upregulation involved an apoptosis-dependent feed-forward loop, since caspase-3 instillation in the lung markedly increased EMAPII expression, while caspase inhibition decreased its production, even in transgenic EMAPII mice. These findings may have clinical significance, as both current smokers and ex-smoker chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients had increased levels of secreted EMAPII in the bronchoalveolar lavage fluid compared with that of nonsmokers. In conclusion, we suggest that EMAPII perpetuates the mechanism of CS-induced lung emphysema in mice and, given its secretory nature, is a suitable target for neutralization antibody therapy.
PMCID: PMC3104742  PMID: 21576822
22.  Elevated YKL40 is associated with advanced prostate cancer (PCa) and positively regulates invasion and migration of PCa cells 
Endocrine-Related Cancer  2014;21(5):723-737.
Chitinase 3-like 1 (CHI3L1 or YKL40) is a secreted glycoprotein highly expressed in tumours from patients with advanced stage cancers, including prostate cancer (PCa). The exact function of YKL40 is poorly understood, but it has been shown to play an important role in promoting tumour angiogenesis and metastasis. The therapeutic value and biological function of YKL40 are unknown in PCa. The objective of this study was to examine the expression and function of YKL40 in PCa. Gene expression analysis demonstrated that YKL40 was highly expressed in metastatic PCa cells when compared with less invasive and normal prostate epithelial cell lines. In addition, the expression was primarily limited to androgen receptor-positive cell lines. Evaluation of YKL40 tissue expression in PCa patients showed a progressive increase in patients with aggressive disease when compared with those with less aggressive cancers and normal controls. Treatment of LNCaP and C4-2B cells with androgens increased YKL40 expression, whereas treatment with an anti-androgen agent decreased the gene expression of YKL40 in androgen-sensitive LNCaP cells. Furthermore, knockdown of YKL40 significantly decreased invasion and migration of PCa cells, whereas overexpression rendered them more invasive and migratory, which was commensurate with an enhancement in the anchorage-independent growth of cells. To our knowledge, this study characterises the role of YKL40 for the first time in PCa. Together, these results suggest that YKL40 plays an important role in PCa progression and thus inhibition of YKL40 may be a potential therapeutic strategy for the treatment of PCa.
PMCID: PMC4134518  PMID: 24981110
YKL40; prostate cancer; cell migration; cell invasion; metastasis; targeted therapy
23.  Mitophagy-dependent necroptosis contributes to the pathogenesis of COPD 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2014;124(9):3987-4003.
The pathogenesis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) remains unclear, but involves loss of alveolar surface area (emphysema) and airway inflammation (bronchitis) as the consequence of cigarette smoke (CS) exposure. Previously, we demonstrated that autophagy proteins promote lung epithelial cell death, airway dysfunction, and emphysema in response to CS; however, the underlying mechanisms have yet to be elucidated. Here, using cultured pulmonary epithelial cells and murine models, we demonstrated that CS causes mitochondrial dysfunction that is associated with a reduction of mitochondrial membrane potential. CS induced mitophagy, the autophagy-dependent elimination of mitochondria, through stabilization of the mitophagy regulator PINK1. CS caused cell death, which was reduced by administration of necrosis or necroptosis inhibitors. Genetic deficiency of PINK1 and the mitochondrial division/mitophagy inhibitor Mdivi-1 protected against CS-induced cell death and mitochondrial dysfunction in vitro and reduced the phosphorylation of MLKL, a substrate for RIP3 in the necroptosis pathway. Moreover, Pink1–/– mice were protected against mitochondrial dysfunction, airspace enlargement, and mucociliary clearance (MCC) disruption during CS exposure. Mdivi-1 treatment also ameliorated CS-induced MCC disruption in CS-exposed mice. In human COPD, lung epithelial cells displayed increased expression of PINK1 and RIP3. These findings implicate mitophagy-dependent necroptosis in lung emphysematous changes in response to CS exposure, suggesting that this pathway is a therapeutic target for COPD.
PMCID: PMC4151233  PMID: 25083992
24.  Role of the tachykinin NK1 receptor in a murine model of cigarette smoke-induced pulmonary inflammation 
Respiratory Research  2009;10(1):37.
The tachykinins, substance P and neurokinin A, present in sensory nerves and inflammatory cells such as macrophages and dendritic cells, are considered as pro-inflammatory agents. Inflammation of the airways and lung parenchyma plays a major role in the pathogenesis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and increased tachykinin levels are recovered from the airways of COPD patients. The aim of our study was to clarify the involvement of the tachykinin NK1 receptor, the preferential receptor for substance P, in cigarette smoke (CS)-induced pulmonary inflammation and emphysema in a mouse model of COPD.
Tachykinin NK1 receptor knockout (NK1-R-/-) mice and their wild type controls (all in a mixed 129/sv-C57BL/6 background) were subjected to sub acute (4 weeks) or chronic (24 weeks) exposure to air or CS. 24 hours after the last exposure, pulmonary inflammation and development of emphysema were evaluated.
Sub acute and chronic exposure to CS resulted in a substantial accumulation of inflammatory cells in the airways of both WT and NK1-R-/- mice. However, the CS-induced increase in macrophages and dendritic cells was significantly impaired in NK1-R-/- mice, compared to WT controls, and correlated with an attenuated release of MIP-3α/CCL20 and TGF-β1. Chronic exposure to CS resulted in development of pulmonary emphysema in WT mice. NK1-R-/- mice showed already enlarged airspaces upon air-exposure. Upon CS-exposure, the NK1-R-/- mice did not develop additional destruction of the lung parenchyma. Moreover, an impaired production of MMP-12 by alveolar macrophages upon CS-exposure was observed in these KO mice. In a pharmacological validation experiment using the NK1 receptor antagonist RP 67580, we confirmed the protective effect of absence of the NK1 receptor on CS-induced pulmonary inflammation.
These data suggest that the tachykinin NK1 receptor is involved in the accumulation of macrophages and dendritic cells in the airways upon CS-exposure and in the development of smoking-induced emphysema. As both inflammation of the airways and parenchymal destruction are important characteristics of COPD, these findings may have implications in the future treatment of this devastating disease.
PMCID: PMC2689186  PMID: 19445658
25.  Antibody Directed against Human YKL-40 Increases Tumor Volume in a Human Melanoma Xenograft Model in Scid Mice 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e95822.
Induced overexpression of the secretory protein YKL-40 promotes tumor growth in xenograft experiments. We investigated if targeting YKL-40 with a monoclonal antibody could inhibit tumor growth. YKL-40 expressing human melanoma cells (LOX) were injected subcutenously in Balb/c scid mice. Animals were treated with intraperitoneal injections of anti-YKL-40, isoptype control or PBS. Non-YKL-40 expressing human pancreatic carcinoma cell line PaCa 5061 served as additional control. MR imaging was used for evaluation of tumor growth. Two days after the first injections of anti-YKL-40, tumor volume had increased significantly compared with controls, whereas no effects were observed for control tumors from PaCa 5061 cells lacking YKL-40 expression. After 18 days, mean tumor size of the mice receiving repeated anti-YKL-40 injections was 1.82 g, >4 times higher than mean tumor size of the controls (0.42 g). The effect of anti-YKL-40 on the increase of tumor volume started within hours after injection and was dose dependent. Intratumoral hemorrhage was observed in the treated animals. The strong effect on tumor size indicates important roles for YKL-40 in melanoma growth and argues for a careful evaluation of antibody therapy directed against YKL-40.
PMCID: PMC3994147  PMID: 24752554

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