IL-13 is a critical mediator of allergic asthma and associated airway hyperresponsiveness. IL-13 acts through a receptor complex comprised of IL-13Rα1 and IL-4Rα subunits with subsequent activation of signal transducer and activator of transcription 6 (STAT6). The IL-13Rα2 receptor may act as a decoy receptor. In human airway smooth muscle (HASM) cells, IL-13 enhances cellular proliferation, calcium responses to agonists and induces eotaxin production. We investigated the effects of pre-treatment with IL-4, IL-13 and IFN-γ on the responses of HASM cells to IL-13.
Cultured HASM were examined for expression of IL-13 receptor subunits using polymerase chain reaction, immunofluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry. Effects of cytokine pre-treatment on IL-13-induced cell responses were assessed by looking at STAT6 phosphorylation using Western blot, eotaxin secretion and calcium responses to histamine.
IL-13Rα1, IL-4Rα and IL-13Rα2 subunits were expressed on HASM cells. IL-13 induced phosphorylation of STAT6 which reached a maximum by 30 minutes. Pre-treatment with IL-4, IL-13 and, to a lesser degree, IFN-γ reduced peak STAT6 phosphorylation in response to IL-13. IL-13, but not IFN-γ, pre-treatment abrogated IL-13-induced eotaxin secretion. Pre-treatment with IL-4 or IL-13 abrogated IL-13-induced augmentation of the calcium transient evoked by histamine. Cytokine pre-treatment did not affect expression of IL-13Rα1 and IL-4Rα but increased expression of IL-13Rα2. An anti-IL-13Rα2 neutralizing antibody did not prevent the cytokine pre-treatment effects on STAT6 phosphorylation. Cytokine pre-treatment increased SOCS-1, but not SOCS-3, mRNA expression which was not associated with significant increases in protein expression.
Pre-treatment with IL-4 and IL-13, but not IFN-γ, induced desensitization of the HASM cells to IL-13 as measured by eotaxin secretion and calcium transients to histamine. The mechanism of IL-4 and IL-13 induced desensitization does not appear to involve either downregulation of receptor expression or induction of the IL-13Rα2 or the SOCS proteins.