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1.  Late-onset neonatal sepsis: recent developments 
The incidence of neonatal late-onset sepsis (LOS) is inversely related to the degree of maturity and varies geographically from 0.61% to 14.2% among hospitalised newborns. Epidemiological data on very low birth weight infants shows that the predominant pathogens of neonatal LOS are coagulase-negative staphylococci, followed by Gram-negative bacilli and fungi. Due to the difficulties in a prompt diagnosis of LOS and LOS-associated high risk of mortality and long-term neurodevelopmental sequelae, empirical antibiotic treatment is initiated on suspicion of LOS. However, empirical therapy is often inappropriately used with unnecessary broad-spectrum antibiotics and a prolonged duration of treatment. The increasing number of multidrug-resistant Gram-negative micro-organisms in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) worldwide is a serious concern, which requires thorough and efficient surveillance strategies and appropriate treatment regimens. Immunological strategies for preventing neonatal LOS are not supported by current evidence, and approaches, such as a strict hygiene protocol and the minimisation of invasive procedures in NICUs represent the cornerstone to reduce the burden of neonatal LOS.
PMCID: PMC4413803  PMID: 25425653
Infectious Diseases; Neonatology; Microbiology
2.  Effects of the New Generation Synthetic Reconstituted Surfactant CHF5633 on Pro- and Anti-Inflammatory Cytokine Expression in Native and LPS-Stimulated Adult CD14+ Monocytes 
PLoS ONE  2016;11(1):e0146898.
Surfactant replacement therapy is the standard of care for the prevention and treatment of neonatal respiratory distress syndrome. New generation synthetic surfactants represent a promising alternative to animal-derived surfactants. CHF5633, a new generation reconstituted synthetic surfactant containing SP-B and SP-C analogs and two synthetic phospholipids has demonstrated biophysical effectiveness in vitro and in vivo. While several surfactant preparations have previously been ascribed immunomodulatory capacities, in vitro data on immunomodulation by CHF5633 are limited, so far. Our study aimed to investigate pro- and anti-inflammatory effects of CHF5633 on native and LPS-stimulated human adult monocytes.
Highly purified adult CD14+ cells, either native or simultaneously stimulated with LPS, were exposed to CHF5633, its components, or poractant alfa (Curosurf®). Subsequent expression of TNF-α, IL-1β, IL-8 and IL-10 mRNA was quantified by real-time quantitative PCR, corresponding intracellular cytokine synthesis was analyzed by flow cytometry. Potential effects on TLR2 and TLR4 mRNA and protein expression were monitored by qPCR and flow cytometry.
Neither CHF5633 nor any of its components induced inflammation or apoptosis in native adult CD14+ monocytes. Moreover, LPS-induced pro-inflammatory responses were not aggravated by simultaneous exposure of monocytes to CHF5633 or its components. In LPS-stimulated monocytes, exposure to CHF5633 led to a significant decrease in TNF-α mRNA (0.57 ± 0.23-fold, p = 0.043 at 4h; 0.56 ± 0.27-fold, p = 0.042 at 14h). Reduction of LPS-induced IL-1β mRNA expression was not significant (0.73 ± 0.16, p = 0.17 at 4h). LPS-induced IL-8 and IL-10 mRNA and protein expression were unaffected by CHF5633. For all cytokines, the observed CHF5633 effects paralleled a Curosurf®-induced modulation of cytokine response. TLR2 and TLR4 mRNA and protein expression were not affected by CHF5633 and Curosurf®, neither in native nor in LPS-stimulated adult monocytes.
The new generation reconstituted synthetic surfactant CHF5633 was tested for potential immunomodulation on native and LPS-activated adult human monocytes. Our data confirm that CHF5633 does not exert unintended pro-inflammatory effects in both settings. On the contrary, CHF5633 significantly suppressed TNF-α mRNA expression in LPS-stimulated adult monocytes, indicating potential anti-inflammatory effects.
PMCID: PMC4720484  PMID: 26790130
3.  Multiple Antenatal Dexamethasone Treatment Alters Brain Vessel Differentiation in Newborn Mouse Pups 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(8):e0136221.
Antenatal steroid treatment decreases morbidity and mortality in premature infants through the maturation of lung tissue, which enables sufficient breathing performance. However, clinical and animal studies have shown that repeated doses of glucocorticoids such as dexamethasone and betamethasone lead to long-term adverse effects on brain development. Therefore, we established a mouse model for antenatal dexamethasone treatment to investigate the effects of dexamethasone on brain vessel differentiation towards the blood-brain barrier (BBB) phenotype, focusing on molecular marker analysis. The major findings were that in total brains on postnatal day (PN) 4 triple antenatal dexamethasone treatment significantly downregulated the tight junction protein claudin-5, the endothelial marker Pecam-1/CD31, the glucocorticoid receptor, the NR1 subunit of the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor, and Abc transporters (Abcb1a, Abcg2 Abcc4). Less pronounced effects were found after single antenatal dexamethasone treatment and in PN10 samples. Comparisons of total brain samples with isolated brain endothelial cells together with the stainings for Pecam-1/CD31 and claudin-5 led to the assumption that the morphology of brain vessels is affected by antenatal dexamethasone treatment at PN4. On the mRNA level markers for angiogenesis, the sonic hedgehog and the Wnt pathway were downregulated in PN4 samples, suggesting fundamental changes in brain vascularization and/or differentiation. In conclusion, we provided a first comprehensive molecular basis for the adverse effects of multiple antenatal dexamethasone treatment on brain vessel differentiation.
PMCID: PMC4537167  PMID: 26274818
4.  Caffeine and Rolipram Affect Smad Signalling and TGF-β1 Stimulated CTGF and Transgelin Expression in Lung Epithelial Cells 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(5):e97357.
Caffeine administration is an important part of the therapeutic treatment of bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) in preterm infants. However, caffeine mediated effects on airway remodelling are still undefined. The TGF-β/Smad signalling pathway is one of the key pathways involved in airway remodelling. Connective tissue growth factor (CTGF), a downstream mediator of TGF-β, and transgelin, a binding and stabilising protein of the cytoskeleton, are both regulated by TGF-β1 and play an important role in airway remodelling. Both have also been implicated in the pathogenesis of BPD. The aim of the present study was to clarify whether caffeine, an unspecific phosphodiesterase (PDE) inhibitor, and rolipram, a prototypical PDE-4 selective inhibitor, were both able to affect TGF-β1-induced Smad signalling and CTGF/transgelin expression in lung epithelial cells. Furthermore, the effect of transgelin knock-down on Smad signalling was studied. The pharmacological effect of caffeine and rolipram on Smad signalling was investigated by means of a luciferase assay via transfection of a TGF-β1-inducible reporter plasmid in A549 cells. The regulation of CTGF and transgelin expression by caffeine and rolipram were studied by promoter analysis, real-time PCR and Western blot. Endogenous transgelin expression was down-regulated by lentiviral transduction mediating transgelin-specific shRNA expression. The addition of caffeine and rolipram inhibited TGF-β1 induced reporter gene activity in a concentration-related manner. They also antagonized the TGF-β1 induced up-regulation of CTGF and transgelin on the promoter-, the mRNA-, and the protein-level. Functional analysis showed that transgelin silencing reduced TGF-β1 induced Smad-signalling and CTGF induction in lung epithelial cells. The present study highlights possible new molecular mechanisms of caffeine and rolipram including an inhibition of Smad signalling and of TGF-β1 regulated genes involved in airway remodelling. An understanding of these mechanisms might help to explain the protective effects of caffeine in prevention of BPD and suggests rolipram to be a potent replacement for caffeine.
PMCID: PMC4020861  PMID: 24828686
5.  Synergistic Effect of Caffeine and Glucocorticoids on Expression of Surfactant Protein B (SP-B) mRNA 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e51575.
Administration of glucocorticoids and caffeine is a common therapeutic intervention in the neonatal period, but possible interactions between these substances are still unclear. The present study investigated the effect of caffeine and different glucocorticoids on expression of surfactant protein (SP)-B, crucial for the physiological function of pulmonary surfactant. We measured expression levels of SP-B, various SP-B transcription factors including erythroblastic leukemia viral oncogene homolog 4 (ErbB4) and thyroid transcription factor-1 (TTF-1), as well as the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) after administering different doses of glucocorticoids, caffeine, cAMP, or the phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitor rolipram in the human airway epithelial cell line NCI-H441. Administration of dexamethasone (1 µM) or caffeine (5 mM) stimulated SP-B mRNA expression with a maximal of 38.8±11.1-fold and 5.2±1.4-fold increase, respectively. Synergistic induction was achieved after co-administration of dexamethasone (1 mM) in combination with caffeine (10 mM) (206±59.7-fold increase, p<0.0001) or cAMP (1 mM) (213±111-fold increase, p = 0.0108). SP-B mRNA was synergistically induced also by administration of caffeine with hydrocortisone (87.9±39.0), prednisolone (154±66.8), and betamethasone (123±6.4). Rolipram also induced SP-B mRNA (64.9±21.0-fold increase). We detected a higher expression of ErbB4 and GR mRNA (7.0- and 1.7-fold increase, respectively), whereas TTF-1, Jun B, c-Jun, SP1, SP3, and HNF-3α mRNA expression was predominantly unchanged. In accordance with mRNA data, mature SP-B was induced significantly by dexamethasone with caffeine (13.8±9.0-fold increase, p = 0.0134). We found a synergistic upregulation of SP-B mRNA expression induced by co-administration of various glucocorticoids and caffeine, achieved by accumulation of intracellular cAMP. This effect was mediated by a caffeine-dependent phosphodiesterase inhibition and by upregulation of both ErbB4 and the GR. These results suggested that caffeine is able to induce the expression of SP-transcription factors and affects the signaling pathways of glucocorticoids, amplifying their effects. Co-administration of caffeine and corticosteroids may therefore be of benefit in surfactant homeostasis.
PMCID: PMC3522739  PMID: 23272120
6.  Antenatal Inflammation Reduces Expression of Caveolin-1 and Influences Multiple Signaling Pathways in Preterm Fetal Lungs 
Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), associated with chorioamnionitis, results from the simultaneous effects of disrupted lung development, lung injury, and repair superimposed on the developing lung. Caveolins (Cavs) are implicated as major modulators of lung injury and remodeling by multiple signaling pathways, although Cavs have been minimally studied in the injured developing lung. We hypothesized that chorioamnionitis-associated antenatal lung inflammation would decrease the expression of Cav-1 in preterm fetal lungs. We tested whether changes occurred in the transcription factors Smad2/3, Smad1/5, Stat3, and Stat1, and we also studied the activation of acid-sphingomyelinase (a-SMase) with the generation of ceramide, along with changes in the expression of heme oxygenase–1 (HO-1) as indicators of possible Cav-1–mediated effects. Fetal sheep were exposed to 10 mg of intra-amniotic endotoxin or saline for 2, 7, or 2 + 7 days before preterm delivery at 124 days of gestation. The expression of Cav-1 and HO-1 and the phosphorylation of Smad and Stat were evaluated by real-time PCR, Western blotting, and/or immunohistochemistry. The activity of a-SMase and the concentrations of ceramide were measured. Intra-amniotic endotoxin decreased Cav-1 mRNA and protein expression in the lungs, with a maximum reduction of Cav-1 mRNA to 50% ± 7% of the control value (P < 0.05), and of Cav-1 protein expression to 20% ± 5% of the control value (P < 0.05). Decreased concentrations of Cav-1 were associated with the elevated phosphorylation of Smad2/3, Stat3, and Stat1, but not of Smad1/5. The expression of HO-1, a-SMase activity, and ceramide increased. Antenatal inflammation decreased the expression of Cav-1 in the preterm fetal lung. The decreased expression of Cav-1 was associated with the activation of the Smad2/3, Stat, and a-SMase/ceramide pathways, and with the increased expression of HO-1. The decreased concentrations of Cav-1 and changes in other signaling pathways may contribute to BPD.
PMCID: PMC3361364  PMID: 21562314
bronchopulmonary dysplasia; TGF-β; a-SMase; ceramide; chorioamnionitis
7.  IFN-γ and TNF-α Synergize to Inhibit CTGF Expression in Human Lung Endothelial Cells 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e45430.
Connective tissue growth factor (CTGF/CCN2) is an angiogenetic and profibrotic factor, acting downstream of TGF-β, involved in both airway- and vascular remodeling. While the T-helper 1 (Th1) cytokine interferon-gamma (IFN-γ) is well characterized as immune-modulatory and anti-fibrotic cytokine, the role of IFN-γ in lung endothelial cells (LEC) is less defined. Tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) is another mediator that drives vascular remodeling in inflammation by influencing CTGF expression. In the present study we investigated the influence of IFN-γ and TNF-α on CTGF expression in human LEC (HPMEC-ST1.6R) and the effect of CTGF knock down on human LEC. IFN-γ and TNF-α down-regulated CTGF in human LEC at the promoter-, transcriptional- and translational-level in a dose- and time-dependent manner. The inhibitory effect of IFN-γ on CTGF-expression could be almost completely compensated by the Jak inhibitor AG-490, showing the involvement of the Jak-Stat signaling pathway. Besides the inhibitory effect of IFN-γ and TNF-α alone on CTGF expression and LEC proliferation, these cytokines had an additive inhibitory effect on proliferation as well as on CTGF expression when administered together. To study the functional role of CTGF in LEC, endogenous CTGF expression was down-regulated by a lentiviral system. CTGF silencing in LEC by transduction of CTGF shRNA reduced cell proliferation, but did not influence the anti-proliferative effect of IFN-γ and TNF-α. In conclusion, our data demonstrated that CTGF was negatively regulated by IFN-γ in LEC in a Jak/Stat signaling pathway-dependent manner. In addition, an additive effect of IFN-γ and TNF-α on inhibition of CTGF expression and cell proliferation could be found. The inverse correlation between IFN-γ and CTGF expression in LEC could mean that screwing the Th2 response to a Th1 response with an additional IFN-γ production might be beneficial to avoid airway remodeling in asthma.
PMCID: PMC3447888  PMID: 23029004
8.  Poractant alfa (Curosurf®) increases phagocytosis of apoptotic neutrophils by alveolar macrophages in vivo 
Respiratory Research  2012;13(1):17.
Clearance of apoptotic neutrophils in the lung is an essential process to limit inflammation, since they could become a pro-inflammatory stimulus themselves. The clearance is partially mediated by alveolar macrophages, which phagocytose these apoptotic cells. The phagocytosis of apoptotic immune cells by monocytes in vitro has been shown to be augmented by several constituents of pulmonary surfactant, e.g. phospholipids and hydrophobic surfactant proteins. In this study, we assessed the influence of exogenous poractant alfa (Curosurf®) instillation on the in vivo phagocytosis of apoptotic neutrophils by alveolar macrophages.
Poractant alfa (200 mg/kg) was instilled intratracheally in the lungs of three months old adult male C57/Black 6 mice, followed by apoptotic neutrophil instillation. Bronchoalveloar lavage was performed and alveolar macrophages and neutrophils were counted. Phagocytosis of apoptotic neutrophils was quantified by determining the number of apoptotic neutrophils per alveolar macrophages.
Exogenous surfactant increased the number of alveolar macrophages engulfing apoptotic neutrophils 2.6 fold. The phagocytosis of apoptotic neutrophils was increased in the presence of exogenous surfactant by a 4.7 fold increase in phagocytosed apoptotic neutrophils per alveolar macrophage.
We conclude that the anti-inflammatory properties of surfactant therapy may be mediated in part by increased numbers of alveolar macrophages and increased phagocytosis of apoptotic neutrophils by alveolar macrophages.
PMCID: PMC3310829  PMID: 22405518
Inflammation; Resolution; Anti inflammation; Drug therapy; Surfactant
9.  Familial Pulmonary Capillary Hemangiomatosis Early in Life 
Case Reports in Pulmonology  2011;2011:827591.
Background. Pulmonary capillary hemangiomatosis (PCH) is a rare disease, especially in infancy. Four infants have been reported up to the age of 12 months. So far, no familial patients are observed at this age. Patients. We report three siblings, two female newborns and a foetus of 15-week gestation of unrelated, healthy parents suffering from histologically proven PCH. The first girl presented with increased O2 requirements shortly after birth and patent ductus arteriosus (PDA). She subsequently developed progressive respiratory failure and pulmonary hypertension and died at the age of five months. The second girl presented with clinical signs of bronchial obstruction at the age of three months. The work-up showed a PDA—which was surgically closed—pulmonary hypertension, and bronchial wall instability with stenosis of the left main bronchus. Transient oxygen therapy was required with viral infections. The girl is now six years old and clinically stable without additional O2 requirements. Failure to thrive during infancy and a somewhat delayed development may be the consequence of the disease itself but also could be attributed to repeated episodes of respiratory failure and a long-term systemic steroid therapy. The third pregnancy ended as spontaneous abortion. The foetus showed histological signs of PCH. Conclusion. Despite the differences in clinical course, the trias of PCH, PDA, and pulmonary hypertension in the two life born girls suggests a genetic background.
PMCID: PMC3420428  PMID: 22937432
10.  Thymic changes after chorioamnionitis induced by intraamniotic LPS in fetal sheep 
Treg mediates homeostasis of the immune system and differentiate under the control of the transcription factor FoxP3 in the fetal thymus.
We asked if fetal inflammation caused by chorioamnionitis would modulate thymus development.
Fetal sheep were exposed to an intraamniotic injection (IA) of 10 mg LPS 5h, 1d, 2d or 5d before delivery at 123d gestation days. Cord blood lymphocytes, plasma cortisol and thymus weight were measured. Glucocorticoid receptor-, activated caspase-3-, Ki67-, PCNA-, NF-κB- and FoxP3-positive cells were immunohistochemically evaluated in thymus.
IA LPS decreased the number of circulating lymphocytes by 40% after 1d. Thymus-to-body weight ratios were reduced in all LPS groups by a maximum of 40% at 5d. LPS modestly increased plasma cortisol concentration, increased NF-κB immunostaining in fetal thymus and reduced the number of FoxP3-positive cells by 60% at 1d.
Intraamniotic exposure to LPS induced thymic changes and influenced thymic FoxP3 expression.
PMCID: PMC2868266  PMID: 20452494
preterm; fetal inflammatory syndrome; immune development; T lymphoyctes; FoxP3; Treg
11.  Infection of Human Coronary Artery Endothelial Cells by Group B Streptococcus Contributes to Dysregulation of Apoptosis, Hemostasis, and Innate Immune Responses 
Mediators of Inflammation  2011;2011:971502.
Early onset sepsis due to group B streptococcus leads to neonatal morbidity, increased mortality, and long-term neurological deficencies. Interaction between septicemic GBS and confluent monolayers of human coronary artery endothelial cells (HCAECs) was analyzed by genome wide expression profiling. In total, 124 genes were differentially expressed (89 upregulated, 35 downregulated) based on a more than 3-fold difference to control HCAEC. Regulated genes are involved in apoptosis, hemostasis, oxidative stress response, infection, and inflammation. Regulation of selected genes and proteins identified in the gene array analysis was confirmed by Real-time RT-PCR assay (granulocyte chemotactic protein 2), ELISA (urokinase, cyclooxygenase 2, granulocyte chemotactic protein 1), and western blotting (Heme oxygenase1, BCL2 interacting protein) at various time points between 4 and 24 hours. These results indicate that GBS infection might influence signalling pathways leading to impaired function of the innate immune system and hemorrhagic and inflammatory complications during GBS sepsis.
PMCID: PMC3061215  PMID: 21437210

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