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1.  IL-33 drives airway hyper-responsiveness through IL-13-mediated mast cell: airway smooth muscle crosstalk 
Allergy  2015;70(5):556-567.
Mast cell localization within the airway smooth muscle (ASM)-bundle plays an important role in the development of airway hyper-responsiveness (AHR). Genomewide association studies implicate the ‘alarmin’ IL-33 in asthma, but its role in mast cell–ASM interactions is unknown.
We examined the expression and functional role of IL-33 in bronchial biopsies of patients with and without asthma, ex vivo ASM, mast cells, cocultured cells and in a mouse model system.
IL-33 protein expression was assessed in human bronchial tissue from 9 healthy controls, and 18 mild-to-moderate and 12 severe asthmatic patients by immunohistochemistry. IL-33 and ST2 mRNA and protein expression in human-derived ASM, epithelial and mast cells were assessed by qPCR, immunofluorescence and/or flow cytometry and ELISA. Functional assays were used to assess calcium signalling, wound repair, proliferation, apoptosis and contraction. AHR and inflammation were assessed in a mouse model.
Bronchial epithelium and ASM expressed IL-33 with the latter in asthma correlating with AHR. ASM and mast cells expressed intracellular IL-33 and ST2. IL-33 stimulated mast cell IL-13 and histamine secretion independent of FcεR1 cross-linking and directly promoted ASM wound repair. Coculture of mast cells with ASM activated by IL-33 increased agonist-induced ASM contraction, and in vivo IL-33 induced AHR in a mouse cytokine installation model; both effects were IL-13 dependent.
IL-33 directly promotes mast cell activation and ASM wound repair but indirectly promotes ASM contraction via upregulation of mast cell-derived IL-13. This suggests that IL-33 may present an important target to modulate mast cell–ASM crosstalk in asthma.
PMCID: PMC4418379  PMID: 25683166
ASM; IL-33; mast cells
2.  An RGS4-Mediated Phenotypic Switch of Bronchial Smooth Muscle Cells Promotes Fixed Airway Obstruction in Asthma 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(1):e28504.
In severe asthma, bronchodilator- and steroid-insensitive airflow obstruction develops through unknown mechanisms characterized by increased lung airway smooth muscle (ASM) mass and stiffness. We explored the role of a Regulator of G-protein Signaling protein (RGS4) in the ASM hyperplasia and reduced contractile capacity characteristic of advanced asthma. Using immunocytochemical staining, ASM expression of RGS4 was determined in endobronchial biopsies from healthy subjects and those from subjects with mild, moderate and severe asthma. Cell proliferation assays, agonist-induced calcium mobilization and bronchoconstriction were determined in cultured human ASM cells and in human precision cut lung slices. Using gain- and loss-of-function approaches, the precise role of RGS proteins was determined in stimulating human ASM proliferation and inhibiting bronchoconstriction. RGS4 expression was restricted to a subpopulation of ASM and was specifically upregulated by mitogens, which induced a hyperproliferative and hypocontractile ASM phenotype similar to that observed in recalcitrant asthma. RGS4 expression was markedly increased in bronchial smooth muscle of patients with severe asthma, and expression correlated significantly with reduced pulmonary function. Whereas RGS4 inhibited G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR)-mediated bronchoconstriction, unexpectedly RGS4 was required for PDGF-induced proliferation and sustained activation of PI3K, a mitogenic signaling molecule that regulates ASM proliferation. These studies indicate that increased RGS4 expression promotes a phenotypic switch of ASM, evoking irreversible airway obstruction in subjects with severe asthma.
PMCID: PMC3257220  PMID: 22253691
3.  The GPCR OGR1 (GPR68) mediates diverse signalling and contraction of airway smooth muscle in response to small reductions in extracellular pH 
British Journal of Pharmacology  2012;166(3):981-990.
Previous studies have linked a reduction in pH in airway, caused by either environmental factors, microaspiration of gastric acid or inflammation, with airway smooth muscle (ASM) contraction and increased airway resistance. Neural mechanisms have been shown to mediate airway contraction in response to reductions in airway pH to < 6.5; whether reduced extracellular pH (pHo) has direct effects on ASM is unknown.
Intracellular signalling events stimulated by reduced pHo in human cultured ASM cells were examined by immunoblotting, phosphoinositide hydrolysis and calcium mobilization assays. ASM cell contractile state was examined using magnetic twisting cytometry. The expression of putative proton-sensing GPCRs in ASM was assessed by real-time PCR. The role of ovarian cancer G protein-coupled receptor 1 (OGR1 or GPR68) in acid-induced ASM signalling and contraction was assessed in cultures subjected to siRNA-mediated OGR1 knockdown.
ASM cells responded to incremental reductions in pHo (from pH 8.0 to pH 6.8) by activating multiple signalling pathways, involving p42/p44, PKB, PKA and calcium mobilization. Coincidently, ASM cells contracted in response to decreased pHo with similar ‘dose’-dependence. Real-time PCR suggested OGR1 was the only proton-sensing GPCR expressed in ASM cells. Both acid-induced signalling (with the exception of PKB activation) and contraction were significantly attenuated by knockdown of OGR1.
These studies reveal OGR1 to be a physiologically relevant GPCR in ASM cells, capable of pleiotropic signalling and mediating contraction in response to small reductions in extracellular pH. Accordingly, ASM OGR1 may contribute to asthma pathology and represent a therapeutic target in obstructive lung diseases.
PMCID: PMC3417423  PMID: 22145625
airway smooth muscle; asthma; bronchoconstriction; calcium; cAMP-dependent protein kinase; contraction; GPR68; G protein-coupled receptor; inflammation; OGR1
4.  Loss of Regulator of G protein signaling 5 promotes airway hyperresponsiveness in the absence of allergic inflammation 
Although eosinophilic inflammation typifies allergic asthma, it is not a prerequisite for AHR, suggesting that underlying abnormalities in structural cells such as airway smooth muscle (ASM) contribute to the asthmatic diathesis. Dysregulation of procontractile, G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) signaling in ASM could mediate enhanced contractility.
We explored the role of a regulator of procontractile GPCR signaling, RGS5, in unprovoked and allergen-induced AHR.
We evaluated GPCR-evoked Ca2+ signaling, precision cut lung slice (PCLS) contraction, and lung inflammation in naïve and Aspergillus fumigatus-challenged WT and Rgs5−/− mice. We analyzed lung resistance and dynamic compliance in live, anesthetized mice by invasive plethysmography.
Loss of RGS5 promoted constitutive AHR due to enhanced GPCR-induced Ca2+ mobilization in ASM. PCLS from naïve Rgs5−/− mice contracted maximally at baseline, independent of allergen challenge. RGS5 deficiency had little effect on parameters of allergic inflammation including cell counts in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF), mucin production, ASM mass, and subepithelial collagen deposition. Unexpectedly, induced IL-13 and IL-33 were much lower in challenged lungs from Rgs5−/− mice relative to WT.
Loss of RGS5 confers spontaneous AHR in mice in the absence of allergic inflammation. Because it is selectively expressed in ASM within the lung and does not promote inflammation, RGS5 may be a therapeutic target for asthma.
PMCID: PMC4119844  PMID: 24666695
Asthma; airway hyperresponsivness; G proteins; Regulator of G protein signaling proteins; Aspergillus fumigatus
5.  Comparison of gel contraction mediated by airway smooth muscle cells from patients with and without asthma 
Thorax  2007;62(10):848-854.
Exaggerated bronchial constriction is the most significant and life threatening response of patients with asthma to inhaled stimuli. However, few studies have investigated the contractility of airway smooth muscle (ASM) from these patients. The purpose of this study was to establish a method to measure contraction of ASM cells by embedding them into a collagen gel, and to compare the contraction between subjects with and without asthma.
Gel contraction to histamine was examined in floating gels containing cultured ASM cells from subjects with and without asthma following overnight incubation while unattached (method 1) or attached (method 2) to casting plates. Smooth muscle myosin light chain kinase protein levels were also examined.
Collagen gels containing ASM cells reduced in size when stimulated with histamine in a concentration‐dependent manner and reached a maximum at a mean (SE) of 15.7 (1.2) min. This gel contraction was decreased by inhibitors for phospholipase C (U73122), myosin light chain kinase (ML‐7) and Rho kinase (Y27632). When comparing the two patient groups, the maximal decreased area of gels containing ASM cells from patients with asthma was 19 (2)% (n = 8) using method 1 and 22 (3)% (n = 6) using method 2, both of which were greater than that of cells from patients without asthma: 13 (2)% (n = 9, p = 0.05) and 10 (4)% (n = 5, p = 0.024), respectively. Smooth muscle myosin light chain kinase levels were not different between the two groups.
The increased contraction of asthmatic ASM cells may be responsible for exaggerated bronchial constriction in asthma.
PMCID: PMC2094259  PMID: 17412779
6.  Extra-Cellular Matrix Proteins Induce Matrix Metalloproteinase-1 (MMP-1) Activity and Increase Airway Smooth Muscle Contraction in Asthma 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e90565.
Airway remodelling describes the histopathological changes leading to fixed airway obstruction in patients with asthma and includes extra-cellular matrix (ECM) deposition. Matrix metalloproteinase-1 (MMP-1) is present in remodelled airways but its relationship with ECM proteins and the resulting functional consequences are unknown. We used airway smooth muscle cells (ASM) and bronchial biopsies from control donors and patients with asthma to examine the regulation of MMP-1 by ECM in ASM cells and the effect of MMP-1 on ASM contraction. Collagen-I and tenascin-C induced MMP-1 protein expression, which for tenascin-C, was greater in asthma derived ASM cells. Tenascin-C induced MMP-1 expression was dependent on ERK1/2, JNK and p38 MAPK activation and attenuated by function blocking antibodies against the β1 and β3 integrin subunits. Tenascin-C and MMP-1 were not expressed in normal airways but co-localised in the ASM bundles and reticular basement membrane of patients with asthma. Further, ECM from asthma derived ASM cells stimulated MMP-1 expression to a greater degree than ECM from normal ASM. Bradykinin induced contraction of ASM cells seeded in 3D collagen gels was reduced by the MMP inhibitor ilomastat and by siRNA knockdown of MMP-1. In summary, the induction of MMP-1 in ASM cells by tenascin-C occurs in part via integrin mediated MAPK signalling. MMP-1 and tenascin-C are co-localised in the smooth muscle bundles of patients with asthma where this interaction may contribute to enhanced airway contraction. Our findings suggest that ECM changes in airway remodelling via MMP-1 could contribute to an environment promoting greater airway narrowing in response to broncho-constrictor stimuli and worsening asthma symptoms.
PMCID: PMC3938782  PMID: 24587395
7.  127 Eosinophils Enhance Airway Smooth Muscle Cell Proliferation Via the Release of Cysteinyl Leukotrines 
The World Allergy Organization Journal  2012;5(Suppl 2):S59-S60.
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the lung airways that is associated with airway remodeling and hyperresponsiveness. Its is well documented that the smooth muscle mass in asthmatic airways is increased due to hypertrophy and hyperplasia of the ASM cells. Moreover, eosinophils have been proposed in different studies to play a major role in airway remodeling. Here, we hypothesized that eosinophils modulate the airways through enhancing ASM cell proliferation. The aim of this study is to examine the effect of eosinophils on ASM cell proliferation using eosinophils isolated from asthmatic and normal control subjects.
Eosinophils were isolated from peripheral blood of 6 mild asthmatics and 6 normal control subjects. ASM cells were incubated with eosinophils or eosinophil membranes and ASM proliferation was estimated using thymidine incorporation. The mRNA expression of extracellular matrix (ECM) in ASM cells was measured using quantitative real-time PCR. The effect of eosinophil-derived proliferative cytokines on ASM cells was determined using neutralizing antibodies. The role of eosinophil derived Cysteinyl Leukotrienes in enhancing ASM was also investigated.
Co-culture with eosinophils significantly increased ASM cell proliferation. However, there was no significant difference in ASM proliferation following incubation with eosinophils from asthmatic versus normal control subjects. Co-culture with eosinophil membranes had no effect on ASM proliferation. Moreover, there was no significant change in the mRNA expression of ECM proteins in ASM cells following co-culture with eosinophils when compared with medium alone. Interestingly, blocking the activity of cysteinyl Leukotries using antagonists inhibited eosinophil-derived ASM proliferation.
Eosinophils enhances the proliferation of ASM cells. This role of eosinophil does not seem to depend on ASM derived ECM proteins nor on Eosinophil derived TGF-β or TNF-α. Eosinophil seems to induce ASM proliferation via the secretion of Cysteinyl Leukotrienes.
PMCID: PMC3513122
8.  Sphingosine-1-phosphate induces pro-remodelling response in airway smooth muscle cells 
Allergy  2014;69(11):1531-1539.
Increased proliferation of airway smooth muscle (ASM) cells leading to hyperplasia and increased ASM mass is one of the most characteristic features of airway remodelling in asthma. A bioactive lipid, sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P), has been suggested to affect airway remodelling by stimulation of human ASM cell proliferation.
To investigate the effect of S1P on signalling and regulation of gene expression in ASM cells from healthy and asthmatic individuals.
Airway smooth muscle cells grown from bronchial biopsies of healthy and asthmatic individuals were exposed to S1P. Gene expression was analysed using microarray, real-time PCR and Western blotting. Receptor signalling and function were determined by mRNA knockdown and intracellular calcium mobilization experiments.
S1P potently regulated the expression of more than 80 genes in human ASM cells, including several genes known to be involved in the regulation of cell proliferation and airway remodelling (HBEGF, TGFB3, TXNIP, PLAUR, SERPINE1, RGS4). S1P acting through S1P2 and S1P3 receptors activated intracellular calcium mobilization and extracellular signal-regulated and Rho-associated kinases to regulate gene expression. S1P-induced responses were not inhibited by corticosteroids and did not differ significantly between ASM cells from healthy and asthmatic individuals.
S1P induces a steroid-resistant, pro-remodelling pathway in ASM cells. Targeting S1P or its receptors could be a novel treatment strategy for inhibiting airway remodelling in asthma.
PMCID: PMC4329332  PMID: 25041788
airway smooth muscle; asthma; remodelling; sphingosine-1-phosphate
9.  Mast cell migration to Th2 stimulated airway smooth muscle from asthmatics 
Thorax  2006;61(8):657-662.
Mast cell microlocalisation within the airway smooth muscle (ASM) bundle is an important determinant of the asthmatic phenotype. We hypothesised that mast cells migrate towards ASM in response to ASM derived chemokines.
Primary ASM cultures from subjects with and without asthma were stimulated with interleukin (IL)‐1β, IL‐4, and IL‐13 alone and in combination. Mast cell chemotaxis towards these ASM supernatants was investigated, and the chemotaxins mediating migration by using specific blocking antibodies for stem cell factor (SCF) and the chemokine receptors CCR3, CXCR1, 3 and 4 as well as the Gi inhibitor pertussis toxin and the tyrosine kinase inhibitor genistein were defined. The concentrations of CCL11, CXCL8, CXCL10, TGF‐β, and SCF in the supernatants were measured and the effect of non‐asthmatic ASM supernatants on the mast cell chemotactic activity of asthmatic ASM was examined.
Human lung mast cells and HMC‐1 cells migrated towards Th2 stimulated ASM from asthmatics but not non‐asthmatics. Mast cell migration was mediated through the combined activation of CCR3 and CXCR1. CCL11 and CXCL8 expression by ASM increased markedly after stimulation, but was similar in those with and without asthma. ASM supernatants from non‐asthmatics inhibited mast cell migration towards the asthmatic ASM supernatant.
Th2 stimulated ASM from asthmatics is chemotactic for mast cells. Non‐asthmatic ASM releases a mediator or mediators that inhibit mast cell migration towards stimulated asthmatic ASM. Specifically targeting mast cell migration into the ASM bundle may provide a novel treatment for asthma.
PMCID: PMC2104682  PMID: 16601090
mast cells; chemokine receptors; chemokines; airway smooth muscle; asthma
10.  β2-Agonist Induced cAMP Is Decreased in Asthmatic Airway Smooth Muscle Due to Increased PDE4D 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e20000.
Background and Objective
Asthma is associated with airway narrowing in response to bronchoconstricting stimuli and increased airway smooth muscle (ASM) mass. In addition, some studies have suggested impaired β-agonist induced ASM relaxation in asthmatics, but the mechanism is not known.
To characterize the potential defect in β-agonist induced cAMP in ASM derived from asthmatic in comparison to non-asthmatic subjects and to investigate its mechanism.
We examined β2-adrenergic (β2AR) receptor expression and basal β-agonist and forskolin (direct activator of adenylyl cyclase) stimulated cAMP production in asthmatic cultured ASM (n = 15) and non-asthmatic ASM (n = 22). Based on these results, PDE activity, PDE4D expression and cell proliferation were determined.
In the presence of IBMX, a pan PDE inhibitor, asthmatic ASM had ∼50% lower cAMP production in response to isoproterenol, albuterol, formoterol, and forskolin compared to non-asthmatic ASM. However when PDE4 was specifically inhibited, cAMP production by the agonists and forskolin was normalized in asthmatic ASM. We then measured the amount and activity of PDE4, and found ∼2-fold greater expression and activity in asthmatic ASM compared to non-asthmatic ASM. Furthermore, inhibition of PDE4 reduced asthmatic ASM proliferation but not that of non-asthmatic ASM.
Decreased β-agonist induced cAMP in ASM from asthmatics results from enhanced degradation due to increased PDE4D expression. Clinical manifestations of this dysregulation would be suboptimal β-agonist-mediated bronchodilation and possibly reduced control over increasing ASM mass. These phenotypes appear to be “hard-wired” into ASM from asthmatics, as they do not require an inflammatory environment in culture to be observed.
PMCID: PMC3096656  PMID: 21611147
11.  CCL2 release by airway smooth muscle is increased in asthma and promotes fibrocyte migration 
Allergy  2014;69(9):1189-1197.
Asthma is characterized by variable airflow obstruction, airway inflammation, airway hyper-responsiveness and airway remodelling. Airway smooth muscle (ASM) hyperplasia is a feature of airway remodelling and contributes to bronchial wall thickening. We sought to investigate the expression levels of chemokines in primary cultures of ASM cells from asthmatics vs healthy controls and to assess whether differentially expressed chemokines (i) promote fibrocyte (FC) migration towards ASM and (ii) are increased in blood from subjects with asthma and in sputum samples from those asthmatics with bronchial wall thickening.
Chemokine concentrations released by primary ASM were measured by MesoScale Discovery platform. The chemokine most highly expressed by ASM from asthmatics compared with healthy controls was confirmed by ELISA, and expression of its cognate chemokine receptor by FCs was examined by immunofluorescence and flow cytometry. The role of this chemokine in FC migration towards ASM was investigated by chemotaxis assays.
Chemokine (C-C motif) ligand 2 (CCL2) levels were increased in primary ASM supernatants from asthmatics compared with healthy controls. CCR2 was expressed on FCs. Fibrocytes migrated towards recombinant CCL2 and ASM supernatants. These effects were inhibited by CCL2 neutralization. CCL2 levels were increased in blood from asthmatics compared with healthy controls, and sputum CCL2 was increased in asthmatics with bronchial wall thickening.
Airway smooth muscle-derived CCL2 mediates FC migration and potentially contributes to the development of ASM hyperplasia in asthma.
PMCID: PMC4215601  PMID: 24931417
airway smooth muscle; asthma; chemokine (C-C motif) ligand 2; chemotaxis; fibrocyte
12.  BET Bromodomains Regulate Transforming Growth Factor-β-induced Proliferation and Cytokine Release in Asthmatic Airway Smooth Muscle* 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2015;290(14):9111-9121.
Background: Airway smooth muscle (ASM) from asthmatics is in a hyperproliferative state and releases more cytokines than healthy individuals.
Results: Inhibition of BET bromodomains reduces ASM proliferation and cytokine release by reducing Brd4 binding to the promoter regions of IL-6 and CXCL8.
Conclusion: BET bromodomain mimics inhibit aberrant ASM proliferation and inflammation in asthmatic patients.
Significance: These compounds may reduce airway remodeling in asthma.
Airway smooth muscle (ASM) mass is increased in asthma, and ASM cells from patients with asthma are hyperproliferative and release more IL-6 and CXCL8. The BET (bromo- and extra-terminal) family of proteins (Brd2, Brd3, and Brd4) govern the assembly of histone acetylation-dependent chromatin complexes. We have examined whether they modulate proliferation and cytokine expression in asthmatic ASM cells by studying the effect of BET bromodomain mimics JQ1/SGCBD01 and I-BET762. ASM cells from healthy individuals and nonsevere and severe asthmatics were pretreated with JQ1/SGCBD01 and I-BET762 prior to stimulation with FCS and TGF-β. Proliferation was measured by BrdU incorporation. IL-6 and CXCL8 release was measured by ELISA, and mRNA expression was measured by quantitative RT-PCR. ChIP using a specific anti-Brd4 antibody and PCR primers directed against the transcriptional start site of IL-6 and CXCL8 gene promoters was performed. Neither JQ1/SGCBD01 nor I-BET762 had any effect on ASM cell viability. JQ1/SGCBD01 and I-BET762 inhibited FCS+TGF-β-induced ASM cell proliferation and IL-6 and CXCL8 release in healthy individuals (≥ 30 nm) and in nonsevere and severe asthma patients (≥100 nm), with the latter requiring higher concentrations of these mimics. JQ1/SGCBD01 reduced Brd4 binding to IL8 and IL6 promoters induced by FCS+TGF-β. Mimics of BET bromodomains inhibit aberrant ASM cell proliferation and inflammation with lesser efficiency in those from asthmatic patients. They may be effective in reducing airway remodeling in asthma.
PMCID: PMC4423696  PMID: 25697361
Asthma; Bromodomain-containing Protein 4 (BRD4); Cell Proliferation; Interleukin 6 (IL-6); Myc (c-Myc); Airway Smooth Muscle; CXCL8; I-BET762; JQ1/SGCBD01
13.  IL-13 enhances agonist-evoked calcium signals and contractile responses in airway smooth muscle 
British Journal of Pharmacology  2003;140(7):1159-1162.
Growing evidence suggests that interleukin (IL)-13, a Th2-type cytokine, plays a critical role in the development of bronchial hyper-responsiveness (BHR), an essential feature of asthma, although the underlying mechanisms remain unknown. In the present study, we investigated whether IL-13 directly affects airway smooth muscle (ASM) function. In murine tracheal rings, IL-13 (100 ng ml−1, 24 h) significantly increased both the carbachol- and KCl-induced maximal force generation without affecting ASM sensitivity. In cultured human ASM cells, IL-13 (50 ng ml−1, 24 h) also augmented cytosolic calcium levels to bradykinin, histamine and carbachol by 60, 35 and 26%, respectively. The present study demonstrates that IL-13 may promote BHR by directly modulating ASM contractility, an effect that may be due to enhanced G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR)-associated calcium signaling.
PMCID: PMC1574143  PMID: 14597600
Asthma; isometric tension; airway smooth muscle; Th2 cytokine; calcium metabolism
14.  Autocrine interaction between IL-5 and IL-1β mediates altered responsiveness of atopic asthmatic sensitized airway smooth muscle 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  1999;104(5):657-667.
T-helper type 2 (Th2) cytokines have been implicated in the pathogenesis of the pulmonary inflammatory response and altered bronchial responsiveness in allergic asthma. To elucidate the mechanism of Th2-dependent mediation of altered airway responsiveness in the atopic asthmatic state, the expression and actions of specific cytokines were examined in isolated rabbit and human airway smooth muscle (ASM) tissues and cultured cells passively sensitized with sera from atopic asthmatic patients or nonatopic/nonasthmatic (control) subjects. Relative to control tissues, the atopic asthmatic sensitized ASM exhibited significantly enhanced maximal isometric contractility to acetylcholine and attenuated relaxation responses to isoproterenol. These proasthmatic changes in agonist responsiveness were ablated by pretreating the atopic sensitized tissues with either an IL-5 receptor blocking antibody (IL-5ra) or the human recombinant IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1ra), whereas an IL-4 neutralizing antibody had no effect. Moreover, relative to controls, atopic asthmatic sensitized ASM cells demonstrated an initial, early (after 3 hours of incubation) increased mRNA expression and protein release of IL-5. This was followed (after 6 hours of incubation) by an enhanced mRNA expression and release of IL-1β protein, an effect that was inhibited in sensitized cells pretreated with IL-5ra. Extended studies demonstrated that naive ASM exposed to exogenously administered IL-5 exhibited an induced upregulated mRNA expression and protein release of IL-1β associated with proasthmatic-like changes in ASM constrictor and relaxant responsiveness, and that these effects were ablated in tissues pretreated with IL-1ra. Taken together, these observations provide new evidence that (a) the Th2 cytokine IL-5 and the pleiotropic proinflammatory cytokine IL-1β are endogenously released by atopic asthmatic sensitized ASM and mechanistically interact to mediate the proasthmatic perturbations in ASM responsiveness; and (b) the nature of this interaction is given by an initial endogenous release of IL-5, which then acts to induce the autologous release of IL-1β by the sensitized ASM itself, resulting in its autocrine manifestation of the proasthmatic phenotype.
PMCID: PMC408541  PMID: 10487780
15.  Airway Smooth Muscle Hypercontractility in Asthma 
Journal of Allergy  2013;2013:185971.
In recent years, asthma has been defined primarily as an inflammatory disorder with emphasis on inflammation being the principle underlying pathophysiological characteristic driving airway obstruction and remodelling. Morphological abnormalities of asthmatic airway smooth muscle (ASM), the primary structure responsible for airway obstruction seen in asthma, have long been described, but surprisingly, until recently, relatively small number of studies investigated whether asthmatic ASM was also fundamentally different in its functional properties. Evidence from recent studies done on single ASM cells and on ASM-impregnated gel cultures have shown that asthmatic ASM is intrinsically hypercontractile. Several elements of the ASM contraction apparatus in asthmatics and in animal models of asthma have been found to be different from nonasthmatics. These differences include some regulatory contractile proteins and also some components of both the calcium-dependent and calcium-independent contraction signalling pathways. Furthermore, oxidative stress was also found to be heightened in asthmatic ASM and contributes to hypercontractility. Understanding the abnormalities and mechanisms driving asthmatic ASM hypercontractility provides a great potential for the development of new targeted drugs, other than the conventional current anti-inflammatory and bronchodilator therapies, to address the desperate unmet need especially in patients with severe and persistent asthma.
PMCID: PMC3613096  PMID: 23577039
16.  Antigen-induced airway hyperresponsiveness and obstruction is related to caveolin-1 expression in airway smooth muscle in a guinea pig asthma model 
Caveolin-1 is a fundamental signalling scaffold protein involved in contraction; however, the role of caveolin-1 in airway responsiveness remains unclear. We evaluated the relationship between caveolin-1 expression in airway smooth muscle (ASM) and antigen-induced airway responsiveness and obstruction in a guinea pig asthma model.
Airway obstruction in sensitised guinea pigs, induced by antigenic (ovalbumin) challenges administered every 10 days, was measured. Antigen-induced responsiveness to histamine and the expression of caveolin-1 and cavin 1, 2 and 3 were evaluated at the third ovalbumin challenge. The control group received saline solution instead of ovalbumin.
After the first challenge, antigen exposure induced a transient airway obstruction and airway hyperresponsiveness, high levels of IL-4 and IL-5 in lung and airway globet cells proliferation at the third antigenic challenge. Caveolin-1 mRNA levels in total lung decreased in the experimental group compared with controls. Flow cytometric analysis of ASM from the experimental group showed a high number of cells expressing caveolin-1 compared with controls. This increase was confirmed by western blot. Airway obstruction and hyperresponsiveness correlated with the degree of increased caveolin-1 expression in ASM cells (P < 0.05; r = 0.69 and −0.52, respectively). The expression of cavins 1, 2 and 3 in ASM also increased in the experimental group compared to controls. Immunohistochemical findings reveal that differences in ASM caveolin-1 were not evident between groups. Nevertheless, a marked decrease in caveolin-1 and caspase 3 was observed in the pulmonary vascular smooth muscle of asthma model compared with controls. Histological analysis did not reveal differences in smooth muscles mass or subepithelial fibrosis levels in airways between groups. However, an enlargement of smooth muscle mass was observed in the pulmonary microvessels of experimental animals. This enlargement did not induce changes in pulmonary or systemic arterial pressures.
Our data suggest that caveolin-1 expression in ASM has a crucial role in the development of antigen-induced airway obstruction and hyperresponsiveness in a guinea pig asthma model. In addition, the asthma model in guinea pigs appears to induce a contractile smooth muscle phenotype in the airways and a proliferative smooth muscle phenotype in pulmonary vessels.
PMCID: PMC4431535  PMID: 25977751
Airway hyperresponsiveness; Airway obstruction; Airway smooth muscle; Asthma; caspase 3; Caveolin-1; Cavin; Pulmonary arterial smooth muscle
17.  MicroRNA-708 regulates CD38 expression through signaling pathways JNK MAP kinase and PTEN/AKT in human airway smooth muscle cells 
Respiratory Research  2014;15(1):107.
The cell-surface protein CD38 mediates airway smooth muscle (ASM) contractility by generating cyclic ADP-ribose, a calcium-mobilizing molecule. In human ASM cells, TNF-α augments CD38 expression transcriptionally by NF-κB and AP-1 activation and involving MAPK and PI3K signaling. CD38−/− mice develop attenuated airway hyperresponsiveness following allergen or cytokine challenge. The post-transcriptional regulation of CD38 expression in ASM is relatively less understood. In ASM, microRNAs (miRNAs) regulate inflammation, contractility, and hyperproliferation. The 3’ Untranslated Region (3’UTR) of CD38 has multiple miRNA binding sites, including a site for miR-708. MiR-708 is known to regulate PI3K/AKT signaling and hyperproliferation of other cell types. We investigated miR-708 expression, its regulation of CD38 expression and the underlying mechanisms involved in such regulation in human ASM cells.
Growth-arrested human ASM cells from asthmatic and non-asthmatic donors were used. MiRNA and mRNA expression were measured by quantitative real-time PCR. CD38 enzymatic activity was measured by a reverse cyclase assay. Total and phosphorylated MAPKs and PI3K/AKT as well as enzymes that regulate their activation were determined by Western blot analysis of cell lysates following miRNA transfection and TNF-α stimulation. Dual luciferase reporter assays were performed to determine whether miR-708 binds directly to CD38 3’UTR to alter gene expression.
Using target prediction algorithms, we identified several miRNAs with potential CD38 3’UTR target sites and determined miR-708 as a potential candidate for regulation of CD38 expression based on its expression and regulation by TNF-α. TNF-α caused a decrease in miR-708 expression in cells from non-asthmatics while it increased its expression in cells from asthmatics. Dual luciferase reporter assays in NIH-3 T3 cells revealed regulation of expression by direct binding of miR-708 to CD38 3’UTR. In ASM cells, miR-708 decreased CD38 expression by decreasing phosphorylation of JNK MAPK and AKT. These effects were associated with increased expression of MKP-1, a MAP kinase phosphatase and PTEN, a phosphatase that terminates PI3 kinase signaling.
In human ASM cells, TNF-α-induced CD38 expression is regulated by miR-708 directly binding to 3’UTR and indirectly by regulating JNK MAPK and PI3K/AKT signaling and has the potential to control airway inflammation, ASM contractility and proliferation.
PMCID: PMC4156970  PMID: 25175907
MicroRNA; MiR-708; Airway smooth muscle cells; MAP kinase; PI3 kinase; PTEN; AKT; CD38
18.  Vitamin D inhibits growth of human airway smooth muscle cells through growth factor-induced phosphorylation of retinoblastoma protein and checkpoint kinase 1 
British Journal of Pharmacology  2009;158(6):1429-1441.
Background and purpose:
Airway remodelling in asthma is manifested, in part, as increased airway smooth muscle (ASM) mass, reflecting myocyte proliferation. We hypothesized that calcitriol, a secosteroidal vitamin D receptor (VDR) modulator, would inhibit growth factor-induced myocyte proliferation.
Experimental approach:
Human ASM cell cultures were derived from bronchial samples taken during surgery. ASM cells were treated with platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) (10 ng·mL−1) for 24 h in the presence of calcitriol, dexamethasone or a checkpoint kinase 1 (Chk1) inhibitor (SB218078). The effects of calcitriol on PDGF-mediated cell proliferation were assessed by thymidine incorporation assay, propidium iodide-based cell cycle analysis, caspase-3 assay and immunoblotting for specific cell cycle modulators.
Key results:
Calcitriol, but not dexamethasone, inhibited PDGF-induced ASM DNA synthesis concentration dependently (IC50= 520 ± 52 nM). These effects were associated with VDR-mediated expression of cytochrome CYP24A1 with no effects on ASM apoptosis. Calcitriol substantially inhibited (P < 0.01) PDGF-stimulated cell growth in ASM derived from both normal (59 ± 8%) and asthmatic subjects (57 ± 9%). Calcitriol inhibited PDGF-induced phosphorylation of retinoblastoma protein (Rb) and Chk1, with no effects on PDGF-mediated activation of extracellular signal-regulated kinases 1/2, PI3-kinase and S6 kinase, or expression of p21Waf/Cip-1, p27Kip1, cyclin D and E2F-1. Consistent with these observations, SB218078 also inhibited (IC50= 450 ± 100 pM) PDGF-induced cell cycle progression.
Conclusions and implications:
Calcitriol decreased PDGF-induced ASM cell growth by inhibiting Rb and Chk1 phosphorylation.
This Research Paper is the subject of a Commentary in this issue by Clifford and Knox (pp. 1426–1428). To view this article visit
PMCID: PMC2795210  PMID: 19814732
asthma; airway remodelling; cell cycle; hyperplasia; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
19.  The dopamine D1 receptor is expressed and facilitates relaxation in airway smooth muscle 
Respiratory Research  2013;14(1):89.
Dopamine signaling is mediated by Gs protein-coupled “D1-like” receptors (D1 and D5) and Gi-coupled “D2-like” receptors (D2-4). In asthmatic patients, inhaled dopamine induces bronchodilation. Although the Gi-coupled dopamine D2 receptor is expressed and sensitizes adenylyl cyclase activity in airway smooth muscle (ASM) cells, the Gs-coupled dopamine D1-like receptor subtypes have never been identified on these cells. Activation of Gs-coupled receptors stimulates cyclic AMP (cAMP) production through the stimulation of adenylyl cyclase, which promotes ASM relaxation. We questioned whether the dopamine D1-like receptor is expressed on ASM, and modulates its function through Gs-coupling.
The mRNA and protein expression of dopamine D1-like receptor subtypes in both native human and guinea pig ASM tissue and cultured human ASM (HASM) cells was measured. To characterize the stimulation of cAMP through the dopamine D1 receptor, HASM cells were treated with dopamine or the dopamine D1-like receptor agonists (A68930 or SKF38393) before cAMP measurements. To evaluate whether the activation of dopamine D1 receptor induces ASM relaxation, guinea pig tracheal rings suspended under isometric tension in organ baths were treated with cumulatively increasing concentrations of dopamine or A68930, following an acetylcholine-induced contraction with or without the cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA) inhibitor Rp-cAMPS, the large-conductance calcium-activated potassium (BKCa) channel blocker iberiotoxin, or the exchange proteins directly activated by cAMP (Epac) antagonist NSC45576.
Messenger RNA encoding the dopamine D1 and D5 receptors were detected in native human ASM tissue and cultured HASM cells. Immunoblots confirmed the protein expression of the dopamine D1 receptor in both native human and guinea pig ASM tissue and cultured HASM cells. The dopamine D1 receptor was also immunohistochemically localized to both human and guinea pig ASM. The dopamine D1-like receptor agonists stimulated cAMP production in HASM cells, which was reversed by the selective dopamine D1-like receptor antagonists SCH23390 or SCH39166. A68930 relaxed acetylcholine-contracted guinea pig tracheal rings, which was attenuated by Rp-cAMPS but not by iberiotoxin or NSC45576.
These results demonstrate that the dopamine D1 receptors are expressed on ASM and regulate smooth muscle force via cAMP activation of PKA, and offer a novel target for therapeutic relaxation of ASM.
PMCID: PMC3847358  PMID: 24004608
Dopamine; RT-PCR; Immunoblot; Gs-coupled receptor; Cyclic AMP; PKA; Epac
20.  Endogenous laminin is required for human airway smooth muscle cell maturation 
Respiratory Research  2006;7(1):117.
Airway smooth muscle (ASM) contraction underlies acute bronchospasm in asthma. ASM cells can switch between a synthetic-proliferative phenotype and a contractile phenotype. While the effects of extracellular matrix (ECM) components on modulation of ASM cells to a synthetic phenotype have been reported, the role of ECM components on maturation of ASM cells to a contractile phenotype in adult lung is unclear. As both changes in ECM components and accumulation of contractile ASM are features of airway wall remodelling in asthma, we examined the role of the ECM protein, laminin, in the maturation of contractile phenotype in human ASM cells.
Human ASM cells were made senescence-resistant by stable expression of human telomerase reverse transcriptase. Maturation to a contractile phenotype was induced by 7-day serum deprivation, as assessed by immunoblotting for desmin and calponin. The role of laminin on ASM maturation was investigated by comparing the effects of exogenous laminin coated on culture plates, and of soluble laminin peptide competitors. Endogenous expression of laminin chains during ASM maturation was also measured.
Myocyte binding to endogenously expressed laminin was required for ASM phenotype maturation, as laminin competing peptides (YIGSR or GRGDSP) significantly reduced desmin and calponin protein accumulation that otherwise occurs with prolonged serum deprivation. Coating of plastic cell culture dishes with different purified laminin preparations was not sufficient to further promote accumulation of desmin or calponin during 7-day serum deprivation. Expression of α2, β1 and γ1 laminin chains by ASM cells was specifically up-regulated during myocyte maturation, suggesting a key role for laminin-2 in the development of the contractile phenotype.
While earlier reports suggest exogenously applied laminin slows the spontaneous modulation of ASM to a synthetic phenotype, we show for the first time that endogenously expressed laminin is required for ASM maturation to the contractile phenotype. As endogenously expressed laminin chains α2, β1 and γ1 are uniquely increased during myocyte maturation, these laminin chains may be key in this process. Thus, human ASM maturation appears to involve regulated endogenous expression of a select set of laminin chains that are essential for accumulation of contractile phenotype myocytes.
PMCID: PMC1586013  PMID: 16968549
21.  Inflammation of bronchial smooth muscle in allergic asthma 
Thorax  2007;62(1):8-15.
Recent observations in asthma suggest that bronchial smooth muscle is infiltrated by inflammatory cells including mast cells. Such an infiltration may contribute to airway remodelling that is partly due to an increase in smooth muscle mass. Whether muscle increase is the result of smooth muscle cell hypertrophy remains controversial and has not been studied by ultrastructural analysis. A morphometric analysis of airway smooth muscle (ASM) was undertaken in asthmatic patients using electron microscopy to examine the interactions between ASM cells and inflammatory cells.
ASM specimens were obtained from 14 asthmatic subjects and nine non‐asthmatic controls undergoing fibreoptic endoscopy. Inflammatory cell counts were assessed by immunohistochemistry, and ultrastructural parameters were measured using electron microscopy in a blinded fashion on smooth muscle cells and inflammatory cells.
ASM from asthmatic patients was infiltrated by an increased number of mast cells and lymphocytes. Smooth muscle cells and their basal lamina were thicker in asthmatic patients (9.5 (0.8) and 1.4 (0.2) μm) than in controls (6.7 (0.4) and 0.7 (0.1) μm). In asthmatics the extracellular matrix was frequently organised in large amounts between ASM cells. Myofibroblasts within smooth muscle bundles were only observed in asthmatics, some of them displaying a close contact with ASM cells.
In asthma, airway myositis is characterised by a direct interaction between ASM cells and mast cells and lymphocytes. Smooth muscle remodelling was present, including cell hypertrophy and abnormal extracellular matrix deposition moulding ASM cells.
PMCID: PMC2111285  PMID: 17189531
asthma; smooth muscle; inflammation; mast cell; myofibroblast
22.  Airway smooth muscle proliferation and survival is not modulated by mast cells 
Clinical and Experimental Allergy  2010;40(2):279-288.
Airway smooth muscle (ASM) hyperplasia and mast cell localization within the ASM bundle are important features of asthma. The cause of this increased ASM mass is uncertain and whether it is a consequence of ASM–mast cell interactions is unknown.
We sought to investigate ASM proliferation and survival in asthma and the effects of co-culture with mast cells.
Primary ASM cultures were derived from 11 subjects with asthma and 12 non-asthmatic controls. ASM cells were cultured for up to 10 days in the presence or absence of serum either alone or in co-culture with the human mast cell line-1, unstimulated human lung mast cells (HLMC) or IgE/anti-IgE-activated HLMC. Proliferation was assessed by cell counts, CFSE assay and thymidine incorporation. Apoptosis and necrosis were analysed by Annexin V/propidium iodide staining using flow cytometry and by assessment of nuclear morphology using immunofluorescence. Mast cell activation was confirmed by the measurement of histamine release.
Using a number of techniques, we found that ASM proliferation and survival was not significantly different between cells derived from subjects with or without asthma. Co-culture with mast cells did not affect the rate of proliferation or survival of ASM cells.
Our findings do not support a role for increased airway smooth proliferation and survival as the major mechanism driving ASM hyperplasia in asthma.
Cite this as: D. Kaur, F. Hollins, R. Saunders, L. Woodman, A. Sutcliffe, G. Cruse, P. Bradding and C. Brightling, Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 2010 (40) 279– 288.
PMCID: PMC2821816  PMID: 20030664
airway smooth muscle; apoptosis; asthma; mast cells; necrosis; proliferation; survival
23.  Airway smooth muscle chemokine receptor expression and function in asthma 
Clinical and Experimental Allergy  2009;39(11):1684-1692.
Chemokine receptors play an important role in cell migration and wound repair. In asthma, CCR3 and 7 are expressed by airway smooth muscle (ASM) and CCR7 has been implicated in the development of ASM hyperplasia. The expression profile of other chemokine receptors by ASM and their function needs to be further explored.
We sought to investigate ASM chemokine receptor expression and function in asthma.
ASM cells were derived from 17 subjects with asthma and 36 non-asthmatic controls. ASM chemokine receptor expression was assessed by flow cytometry and immunofluorescence. The function of chemokine receptors expressed by more than 10% of ASM cells was investigated by intracellular calcium measurements, chemotaxis, wound healing, proliferation and survival assays.
In addition to CCR3 and 7, CXCR1, 3 and 4 were highly expressed by ASM. These CXC chemokine receptors were functional with an increase in intracellular calcium following ligand activation and promotion of wound healing [CXCL10 (100 ng/mL) 34 ± 2 cells/high-powered field (hpf) vs. control 29 ± 1; P=0.03; n=8]. Spontaneous wound healing was inhibited by CXCR3 neutralizing antibody (mean difference 7 ± 3 cells/hpf; P=0.03; n=3). CXC chemokine receptor activation did not modulate ASM chemotaxis, proliferation or survival. No differences in chemokine receptor expression or function were observed between ASM cells derived from asthmatic or non-asthmatic donors.
Our findings suggest that the chemokine receptors CXCR1, 3 and 4 modulate some aspects of ASM function but their importance in asthma is uncertain.
PMCID: PMC2774481  PMID: 19735481
asthma; airway smooth muscle; chemokine receptors; wound healing
24.  Mechanisms of Induction of Airway Smooth Muscle Hyperplasia by Transforming Growth Factor-β 
Airway smooth muscle (ASM) hyperplasia is a characteristic feature of the asthmatic airway but the underlying mechanisms that induce ASM hyperplasia remain unknown. Because transforming growth factor (TGF)-β is a potent regulator of ASM cell proliferation, we determined its expression and mitogenic signaling pathways in ASM cells. We obtained ASM cells by laser capture microdissection of bronchial biopsies and found that ASM cells from asthmatic patients expressed TGF-β1 mRNA and protein to a greater extent than non-asthmatic individuals using real-time RT-PCR and immunohistochemistry, respectively. TGF-β1 stimulated the growth of non-confluent and confluent ASM cells either in the presence or absence of serum in a time- and concentration-dependent manner. The mitogenic activity of TGF-β1 on ASM cells was inhibited by selective inhibitors of TGF-β receptor-I kinase (SD-208), of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K, LY294002), ERK (PD98059), JNK (SP600125) and NF-κB (AS602868). On the other hand, p38 MAPK inhibitor (SB203580) augmented TGF-β1-induced proliferation. To study role of the Smads, we transduced ASM cells with an adenovirus vector expressing Smad 4, Smad 7 or negative dominant Smad3 and found no involvement of these Smads in TGF-β1-induced proliferation. Dexamethasone caused a dose-dependent inhibition in TGF-β1-induced proliferation. Our findings suggest that TGF-β1 may act in an autocrine fashion to induce ASM hyperplasia, mediated by its receptor and several kinases including PI3K, ERK and JNK, while p38 MAPK is a negative regulator. NF-κB is also involved in the TGF-β1 mitogenic signaling but Smad pathway does not appear important.
PMCID: PMC1934553  PMID: 17468136
Laser capture microdissection; TGF-β1 expression; airway smooth muscle cells; asthma; corticosteroids
25.  ASM-024, a Piperazinium Compound, Promotes the In Vitro Relaxation of β2-Adrenoreceptor Desensitized Tracheas 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(3):e0120095.
Inhaled β2-adrenoreceptor agonists are widely used in asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) for bronchoconstriction relief. β2-adrenoreceptor agonists relax airway smooth muscle cells via cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) mediated pathways. However, prolonged stimulation induces functional desensitization of the β2-adrenoreceptors (β2-AR), potentially leading to reduced clinical efficacy with chronic or prolonged administration. ASM-024, a small synthetic molecule in clinical stage development, has shown activity at the level of nicotinic receptors and possibly at the muscarinic level and presents anti-inflammatory and bronchodilator properties. Aerosolized ASM-024 reduces airway resistance in mice and promotes in-vitro relaxation of tracheal and bronchial preparations from animal and human tissues. ASM-024 increased in vitro relaxation response to maximally effective concentration of short—acting beta-2 agonists in dog and human bronchi. Although the precise mechanisms by which ASM-024 promotes airway smooth muscle (ASM) relaxation remain unclear, we hypothesized that ASM-024 will attenuate and/or abrogate agonist-induced contraction and remain effective despite β2-AR tachyphylaxis. β2-AR tachyphylaxis was induced with salbutamol, salmeterol and formoterol on guinea pig tracheas. The addition of ASM-024 relaxed concentration-dependently intact or β2-AR desensitized tracheal rings precontracted with methacholine. ASM-024 did not induce any elevation of intracellular cAMP in isolated smooth muscle cells; moreover, blockade of the cAMP pathway with an adenylate cyclase inhibitor had no significant effect on ASM-024-induced guinea pig trachea relaxation. Collectively, these findings show that ASM-024 elicits relaxation of β2-AR desensitized tracheal preparations and suggest that ASM-024 mediates smooth muscle relaxation through a different target and signaling pathway than β2-adrenergic receptor agonists. These findings suggest ASM-024 could potentially provide clinical benefit when used adjunctively with inhaled β2-adrenoreceptor agonists in those patients exhibiting a reduced response to their chronic use.
PMCID: PMC4370676  PMID: 25799096

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