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1.  Alveolar Epithelium: Beyond the Barrier 
I am deeply honored to have been awarded an American Thoracic Society Recognition Award for Scientific Accomplishment for 2014. Over the last 20 years, it has become clear that the alveolar epithelium, my area of research focus, is not simply a gas exchange surface and barrier to leakage of fluid and protein into the alveoli, but is an active participant in the pathogenesis of a number of lung diseases, including pulmonary fibrosis. Recognition by this Award stimulates a review of the awardee’s contributions to the field, as summarized in this perspective.
PMCID: PMC4068954  PMID: 24783957
2.  Knockout Mice Reveal Key Roles for Claudin 18 in Alveolar Barrier Properties and Fluid Homeostasis 
Claudin proteins are major constituents of epithelial and endothelial tight junctions (TJs) that regulate paracellular permeability to ions and solutes. Claudin 18, a member of the large claudin family, is highly expressed in lung alveolar epithelium. To elucidate the role of claudin 18 in alveolar epithelial barrier function, we generated claudin 18 knockout (C18 KO) mice. C18 KO mice exhibited increased solute permeability and alveolar fluid clearance (AFC) compared with wild-type control mice. Increased AFC in C18 KO mice was associated with increased β-adrenergic receptor signaling together with activation of cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator, higher epithelial sodium channel, and Na-K-ATPase (Na pump) activity and increased Na-K-ATPase β1 subunit expression. Consistent with in vivo findings, C18 KO alveolar epithelial cell (AEC) monolayers exhibited lower transepithelial electrical resistance and increased solute and ion permeability with unchanged ion selectivity. Claudin 3 and claudin 4 expression was markedly increased in C18 KO mice, whereas claudin 5 expression was unchanged and occludin significantly decreased. Microarray analysis revealed changes in cytoskeleton-associated gene expression in C18 KO mice, consistent with observed F-actin cytoskeletal rearrangement in AEC monolayers. These findings demonstrate a crucial nonredundant role for claudin 18 in the regulation of alveolar epithelial TJ composition and permeability properties. Increased AFC in C18 KO mice identifies a role for claudin 18 in alveolar fluid homeostasis beyond its direct contributions to barrier properties that may, at least in part, compensate for increased permeability.
PMCID: PMC4148039  PMID: 24588076
bioelectrical properties; permeability; alveolar fluid clearance; β2-adrenergic receptor; tight junction
3.  Role of Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress in Epithelial–Mesenchymal Transition of Alveolar Epithelial Cells 
Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress has been implicated in alveolar epithelial type II (AT2) cell apoptosis in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. We hypothesized that ER stress (either chemically induced or due to accumulation of misfolded proteins) is also associated with epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) in alveolar epithelial cells (AECs). ER stress inducers, thapsigargin (TG) or tunicamycin (TN), increased expression of ER chaperone, Grp78, and spliced X-box binding protein 1, decreased epithelial markers, E-cadherin and zonula occludens–1 (ZO-1), increased the myofibroblast marker, α–smooth muscle actin (α-SMA), and induced fibroblast-like morphology in both primary AECs and the AT2 cell line, RLE-6TN, consistent with EMT. Overexpression of the surfactant protein (SP)–C BRICHOS mutant SP-CΔExon4 in A549 cells increased Grp78 and α-SMA and disrupted ZO-1 distribution, and, in primary AECs, SP-CΔExon4 induced fibroblastic-like morphology, decreased ZO-1 and E-cadherin and increased α-SMA, mechanistically linking ER stress associated with mutant SP to fibrosis through EMT. Whereas EMT was evident at lower concentrations of TG or TN, higher concentrations caused apoptosis. The Src inhibitor, 4-amino-5-(4-chlorophenyl)-7-(t-butyl)pyrazolo[3,4]pyramidine) (PP2), abrogated EMT associated with TN or TG in primary AECs, whereas overexpression of SP-CΔExon4 increased Src phosphorylation, suggesting a common mechanism. Furthermore, increased Grp78 immunoreactivity was observed in AT2 cells of mice after bleomycin injury, supporting a role for ER stress in epithelial abnormalities in fibrosis in vivo. These results demonstrate that ER stress induces EMT in AECs, at least in part through Src-dependent pathways, suggesting a novel role for ER stress in fibroblast accumulation in pulmonary fibrosis.
PMCID: PMC3175581  PMID: 21169555
alveolar epithelium; pulmonary fibrosis; fibroblast; myofibroblast
4.  Directed Expression of Cre in Alveolar Epithelial Type 1 Cells 
Pulmonary alveolar epithelium is comprised of two morphologically and functionally distinct cell types, alveolar epithelial type (AT) I and AT2 cells. Genetically modified mice with cell-specific Cre/loxP-mediated knockouts of relevant genes in each respective cell type would be useful to help elucidate the relative contributions of AT1 versus AT2 cells to alveolar homeostasis. Cre has previously been efficiently expressed in AT2 cells in mouse lung with the surfactant protein (SP)-C promoter; however, no transgenic mouse expressing Cre in AT1 cells has so far been available. To develop an AT1 cell–specific transgenic Cre mouse, we generated a knockin of a Cre-IRES-DsRed cassette into exon 1 of the endogenous aquaporin 5 (Aqp5) gene, a gene expressed specifically in AT1 cells in the distal lung epithelium, resulting in the mouse line, Aqp5-Cre-IRES-DsRed (ACID). Endogenous Aqp5 and transgenic Cre in ACID mice showed a very similar pattern of tissue distribution by RT-PCR. To analyze Cre activity, ACID was crossed to two Cre reporter strains, R26LacZ and mT/mG. Double-transgenic offspring demonstrated reporter gene expression in a very high fraction of AT1 cells in the distal lung, whereas AT2 cells were negative. As expected, variable reporter expression was detected in several other tissues where endogenous Aqp5 is expressed (e.g., submandibular salivary gland and stomach). ACID mice should be of major utility in analyzing the functional contribution of AT1 cells to alveolar epithelial properties in vivo with Cre/loxP-mediated gene deletion technology.
PMCID: PMC2937230  PMID: 19767448
loxP; aquaporin 5; lung; alveolar epithelium; reporter
5.  Mechanisms of Alveolar Epithelial Translocation of a Defined Population of Nanoparticles 
To explore mechanisms of nanoparticle interactions with and trafficking across lung alveolar epithelium, we utilized primary rat alveolar epithelial cell monolayers (RAECMs) and an artificial lipid bilayer on filter model (ALBF). Trafficking rates of fluorescently labeled polystyrene nanoparticles (PNPs; 20 and 100 nm, carboxylate (negatively charged) or amidine (positively charged)-modified) in the apical-to-basolateral direction under various experimental conditions were measured. Using confocal laser scanning microscopy, we investigated PNP colocalization with early endosome antigen–1, caveolin-1, clathrin heavy chain, cholera toxin B, and wheat germ agglutinin. Leakage of 5-carboxyfluorescein diacetate from RAECMs, and trafficking of 22Na and 14C-mannitol across ALBF, were measured in the presence and absence of PNPs. Results showed that trafficking of positively charged PNPs was 20–40 times that of negatively charged PNPs across both RAECMs and ALBF, whereas translocation of PNPs across RAECMs was 2–3 times faster than that across ALBF. Trafficking rates of PNPs across RAECMs did not change in the presence of EGTA (which decreased transepithelial electrical resistance to zero) or inhibitors of endocytosis. Confocal laser scanning microscopy revealed no intracellular colocalization of PNPs with early endosome antigen–1, caveolin-1, clathrin heavy chain, cholera toxin B, or wheat germ agglutinin. Leakage of 5-carboxyfluorescein diacetate from alveolar epithelial cells, and sodium ion and mannitol flux across ALBF, were not different in the presence or absence of PNPs. These data indicate that PNPs translocate primarily transcellularly across RAECMs, but not via known major endocytic pathways, and suggest that such translocation may take place by diffusion of PNPs through the lipid bilayer of cell plasma membranes.
PMCID: PMC2874446  PMID: 19574531
epithelial transport; lipid bilayers; cell monolayers; particle trafficking; pneumocytes
6.  Foxp2 Inhibits Nkx2.1-Mediated Transcription of SP-C via Interactions with the Nkx2.1 Homeodomain 
The transcription factor (TF) Foxp2 has been shown to partially repress surfactant protein C (SP-C) transcription, presumably through interaction of an independent repressor domain with a conserved Foxp2 consensus site in the SP-C promoter. We explored the role of interactions between Foxp2 and the homeodomain TF Nkx2.1 that may contribute to the marked reduction in SP-C expression accompanying phenotypic transition of alveolar epithelial type II (AT2) to type I (AT1) cells. Foxp2 dose-dependently inhibited Nkx2.1-mediated activation of SP-C in MLE-15 cells. While electrophoretic mobility shift assays and chromatin immunoprecipitations revealed an interaction between Foxp2 and the conserved consensus motif in the SP-C promoter, Nkx2.1-mediated activation of the 318-bp proximal SP-C promoter (which lacks a Foxp2 consensus) was attenuated by increasing amounts of Foxp2. Co-immunoprecipitation and mammalian two-hybrid assays confirmed a physical interaction between Nkx2.1 and Foxp2 mediated through the Nkx2.1 homeodomain. Formation of an Nkx2.1 complex with an SP-C oligonucleotide was inhibited dose-dependently by recombinant Foxp2. These findings demonstrate that direct interaction between Foxp2 and Nkx2.1 inhibits Nkx2.1 DNA-binding and transcriptional activity and suggest a mechanism for down-regulation of SP-C (and probably other AT2 cell genes) during transition of AT2 cells to an AT1 cell phenotype.
PMCID: PMC2396252  PMID: 18239190
alveolar epithelium; transcriptional regulation; forkhead box; Nkx2.1; differentiation
7.  Expression and Biological Activity of ABCA1 in Alveolar Epithelial Cells 
The mechanisms used by alveolar type I pneumocytes for maintenance of the lipid homeostasis necessary to sustain these large squamous cells are unknown. The processes may involve the ATP-binding cassette transporter A1 (ABCA1), a transport protein shown to be crucial in apolipoprotein A-I (apoA-I)–mediated mobilization of cellular cholesterol and phospholipid. Immunohistochemical data demonstrated the presence of ABCA1 in lung type I and type II cells and in cultured pneumocytes. Type II cells isolated from rat lungs and cultured for 5 days in 10% serum trans-differentiated toward cells with a type I–like phenotype which reacted with the type I cell–specific monoclonal antibody VIIIB2. Upon incubation of the type I–like pneumocytes with agents that up-regulate the ABCA1 gene (9-cis-retinoic acid [9cRA] and 22-hydroxycholesterol [22-OH, 9cRA/22-OH]), ABCA1 protein levels were enhanced to maximum levels after 8 to 16 hours and remained elevated for 24 hours. In the presence of apoA-I and 9cRA/22-OH, efflux of radioactive phospholipid and cholesterol from pneumocytes was stimulated 3- to 20-fold, respectively, over controls. Lipid efflux was inhibited by Probucol. Sucrose density gradient analysis of the media from stimulated cells incubated with apoA-I identified heterogeneous lipid particles that isolated at a density between 1.063 and 1.210 g/ml, with low or high apoA-I content. Thus, pneumocytes with markers for the type I phenotype contained functional ABCA1 protein, released lipid to apoA-I protein, and were capable of producing particles resembling nascent high-density lipoprotein, indicating an important role for ABCA1 in the maintenance of lung lipid homeostasis.
PMCID: PMC2258448  PMID: 17884990
lung; cholesterol; high-density lipoprotein; apolipoprotein A-I; phospholipids
8.  Effects of KGF on Alveolar Epithelial Cell Transdifferentiation Are Mediated by JNK Signaling 
Rat alveolar epithelial cells (AEC) in primary culture transdifferentiate from a type II (AT2) toward a type I (AT1) cell-like phenotype, a process that can be both prevented and reversed by keratinocyte growth factor (KGF). Microarray analysis revealed that these effects of KGF are associated with up-regulation of key molecules in the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway. To further explore the role of three key MAPK (i.e., extracellular signal–related kinase [ERK] 1/2, c-Jun N-terminal kinase [JNK] and p38) in mediating effects of KGF on AEC phenotype, primary rat AEC cultivated in minimal defined serum-free medium (MDSF) were treated with KGF (10 ng/ml) from Day 4 for intervals up to 48 hours. Exposure to KGF activated all three MAPK, JNK, ERK1/2, and p38. Inhibition of JNK, but not of ERK1/2 or p38, abrogated the ability of KGF to maintain the AT2 cell phenotype, as evidenced by loss of expression of lamellar membrane protein (p180) and increased reactivity with the AT1 cell-specific monoclonal antibody VIIIB2 by Day 6 in culture. Overexpression of JNKK2, upstream kinase of JNK, increased activation of endogenous c-Jun in association with increased expression of p180 and abrogation of AQP5, suggesting that activation of c-Jun promotes retention of the AT2 cell phenotype. These results indicate that retention of the AT2 cell phenotype by KGF involves c-Jun and suggest that activation of c-Jun kinase may be an important determinant of maintenance of AT2 cell phenotype.
PMCID: PMC2214671  PMID: 17872496
alveolar epithelium; mitogen-activated protein kinase; c-Jun; keratinocyte growth factor; microarray
9.  Endothelin-1 Induces Alveolar Epithelial–Mesenchymal Transition through Endothelin Type A Receptor–Mediated Production of TGF-β1 
Endothelin-1 (ET-1) is implicated in the pathogenesis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), but the cellular mechanisms underlying the role it plays in this disease are not well characterized. Epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT), which was recently demonstrated in alveolar epithelial cells (AEC), may play an important role in the pathogenesis of IPF and other forms of pulmonary fibrosis. Whether ET-1 contributes to the induction of EMT in AEC is unknown. The aims of this study were to evaluate AEC production of ET-1 and to determine if ET-1 induces EMT in AEC. We demonstrate that ET-1 is produced at physiologically relevant levels by primary AEC and is secreted preferentially toward the basolateral surface. We also demonstrate that AEC express high levels of endothelin type A receptors (ET-A) and, to a lesser extent, type B receptors (ET-B), suggesting autocrine or paracrine function for alveolar ET-1. In addition, ET-1 induces EMT through ET-A activation. Furthermore, TGF-β1 synthesis is increased by ET-1, ET-1 induces Smad3 phosphorylation, and ET-1–induced EMT is attenuated by a TGF-β1–neutralizing antibody. Thus, ET-1 is an important mediator of EMT in AEC, acting through ET-A–mediated TGF-β1 production. These findings increase our basic understanding of the role of ET-1 in pulmonary fibrosis and suggest potential roles for AEC-derived ET-1 in the pathogenesis of other alveolar epithelial–mediated lung diseases.
PMCID: PMC1899351  PMID: 17379848
pulmonary fibrosis; alveolar epithelial cells; polar secretion; lung injury

Results 1-9 (9)