Sci Rep 2020 04 21;10(1):6754. Epub 2020 Apr 21.
Department of Molecular Pharmacology, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands.
Asthma is a heterogeneous disease characterized by chronic inflammation and structural changes in the airways. The airway smooth muscle (ASM) is responsible for airway narrowing and an important source of inflammatory mediators. We and others have previously shown that WNT5A mRNA and protein expression is higher in the ASM of asthmatics compared to healthy controls. Here, we aimed to characterize the functional role of (smooth muscle-derived) WNT5A in asthma. We generated a tet-ON smooth-muscle-specific WNT5A transgenic mouse model, enabling in vivo characterization of smooth-muscle-derived WNT5A in response to ovalbumin. Smooth muscle specific WNT5A overexpression showed a clear trend towards enhanced actin (α-SMA) expression in the ASM in ovalbumin challenged animals, but had no effect on collagen content. WNT5A overexpression in ASM also significantly enhanced the production of the Th2-cytokines IL4 and IL5 in lung tissue after ovalbumin exposure. In line with this, WNT5A increased mucus production, and enhanced eosinophilic infiltration and serum IgE production in ovalbumin-treated animals. In addition, CD4 T cells of asthma patients and healthy controls were stimulated with WNT5A and changes in gene transcription assessed by RNA-seq. WNT5A promoted expression of 234 genes in human CD4 T cells, among which the Th2 cytokine IL31 was among the top 5 upregulated genes. IL31 was also upregulated in response to smooth muscle-specific WNT5A overexpression in the mouse. In conclusion, smooth-muscle derived WNT5A augments Th2 type inflammation and remodelling. Our findings imply a pro-inflammatory role for smooth muscle-derived WNT5A in asthma, resulting in increased airway wall inflammation and remodelling.