Roles of cysteinyl leukotrienes in airway inflammation, smooth muscle function, and remodeling

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2003 Jan;111(1 Suppl):S18-34; discussion S34-6. doi: 10.1067/mai.2003.25.


A new paradigm for asthma pathogenesis is presented in which exaggerated inflammation and remodeling in the airways are a consequence of abnormal injury and repair responses arising from a subject's susceptibility to components of the inhaled environment. An epithelial-mesenchymal trophic unit becomes activated to drive pathologic remodeling and smooth muscle proliferation through complex cytokine interactions. Histamine, prostanoids, and cysteinyl leukotrienes (CysLTs) are potent contractile agonists of airway smooth muscle (ASM). The CysLTs appear to play a central role in regulating human ASM motor tone and phenotypic alterations, manifested as hypertrophy and hyperplasia in chronic severe asthma. The CysLTs augment growth factor-induced ASM mitogenesis through activation of CysLT receptors. Although they mediate their contractile effects by increasing phosphoinositide turnover and inducing increased cytosolic calcium, new data suggest that part of the contractile effect may be independent of calcium mobilization. Prostaglandin E(2), the predominant eicosanoid product of the airway epithelium, is a potent inhibitor of mitogenesis, collagen synthesis, and mesenchymal cell chemotaxis and therefore can suppress inflammation and fibroblast activation. The capacity of the epithelium for CysLT synthesis is inversely related to its ability to make PGE(2). The ASM is capable of expressing both leukotriene-synthesizing enzymes and CysLT receptors, and cytokines upregulate the receptor expression. This may be an explanation for the CysLTs promoting airway hyperresponsiveness in asthma. The CysLTs play an important role in the airway remodeling seen in persistent asthma that includes increases of airway goblet cells, mucus, blood vessels, smooth muscle, myofibroblasts, and airway fibrosis. Evidence from a mouse model of asthma demonstrated that CysLT(1) receptor antagonists inhibit the airway remodeling processes, including eosinophil trafficking to the lungs, eosinophil degranulation, T(H)2 cytokine release, mucus gland hyperplasia, mucus hypersecretion, smooth muscle cell hyperplasia, collagen deposition, and lung fibrosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Asthma / drug therapy
  • Asthma / immunology*
  • Asthma / physiopathology*
  • Dinoprostone / physiology
  • Epithelial Cells / physiology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Leukotriene Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Mesoderm / physiology
  • Models, Immunological
  • Muscle, Smooth / physiopathology*
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / immunology
  • Receptors, Leukotriene / metabolism
  • Respiratory Physiological Phenomena
  • Respiratory System / ultrastructure
  • SRS-A / physiology*
  • Wound Healing


  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents
  • Leukotriene Antagonists
  • Receptors, Leukotriene
  • SRS-A
  • Dinoprostone