Inhaled corticosteroids represent the most common treatment for asthma. Although most asthmatic patients respond well, a significant proportion of severe asthmatics require higher doses or even fail to respond to oral or inhaled corticosteroids. We previously reported that glucocorticoid receptor-beta is associated with corticosteroid resistance in airway epithelial cells from asthmatic patients and that Th-17 cytokines increase steroid insensitivity via a mechanism involving GR-beta upregulation. We aim to investigate whether IL-17A and F cytokines enhance steroid unresponsiveness in PBMCs from normal subjects and severe asthmatics via the upregulation of GR-beta isoform.
PBMCs were cultured for 48 hours in the presence or absence of IL-2, IL-4, IL-17A, IL-17F or IL-23 cytokines. Expression of GR-alpha, GR-beta, GILZ and IL-6 was determined using Q-RT-PCR and/or Western blotting. Response to Dexamethasone was determined on the inhibition of PHA-induced proliferation by Dexamethasone (IC50) using either 3H-thymidine or CFSE-labelled cells. Response of the cells to Dexamethasone-induced apoptosis was determined by Annexin-V staining.
Treatment of PBMCs with IL-17A+IL-17F combined significantly decreased the mRNA expression of GR-alpha while that of GR-beta was significantly upregulated. IL-2+IL-4 in combination significantly decreased GR-alpha expression but had no effect on GR-beta receptor expression. IL17A+IL17F+IL23 combined induced the highest ratio of GR-beta/GR-alpha in PBMC from normal subjects. Either IL-17A+F or IL-2+IL-4 combinations significantly decreased the inhibitory effect of Dexamethasone on PBMC proliferation (IL-17A+F IC50 = 190 nM Dex; IL-2+4 IC50 = 1060 nM Dex), when compared to the control without cytokine stimulation. In the presence of Dexamethasone, IL-2+IL-4 but not IL-17A+IL-17F, inhibited the expression of the glucocorticoid-inducible leucine zipper gene (GILZ) in PBMCs from both normal (60%) and asthmatics (45–50%), which was correlated with significantly higher apoptosis in cells stimulated with IL-2+IL-4.
IL-17A, IL-17F, IL-2, and IL-4, which are known to be upregulated in the blood and lung tissue of asthmatics, contribute to steroid insensitivity of severe asthmatic patients by modulating the expression of GR-alpha and GR-beta receptors on peripheral blood PBMCs. GR-beta could protect PBMCs from Dex-induced apoptosis. Furthermore, the increased GR-beta/GR-alpha ratios by both IL-17A+F and IL-2+4 cytokines correlates with the decreased inhibitory effect of Dexamethasone on PHA-induced PBMC proliferation.