Neurotrophins in allergic airway dysfunction: what the mouse model is teaching us

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2003 May;992:241-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2003.tb03154.x.


Neurotrophins such as nerve growth factor (NGF) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) are potent mediators of neuronal plasticity in the adult. There is increasing evidence that they regulate a variety of immune functions as well. Thus, neurotrophins are candidate molecules for neuroimmune interactions in allergic bronchial asthma, where elevated neurotrophin levels have been reported. In a mouse model of allergic airway inflammation we have identified macrophages and lymphocytes as additional cellular sources of NGF and BDNF in the inflamed lung. There was an unusual time course of BDNF in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid. BDNF levels peaked 1 week after the last allergen challenge, and did not correlate with the time course of the inflammatory response. In a series of experiments using blocking anti-NGF and anti-BDNF antibodies, we have shown that NGF specifically enhances inflammation and the allergic early-phase response. In contrast, BDNF influenced chronic airway obstruction and local neuronal hyperreactivity without affecting inflammation. Using transgenic mice overexpressing NGF in the airway epithelium, we have confirmed the data obtained from anti-NGF experiments. Allergen-challenged NGF overexpressors displayed a markedly augmented airway inflammation, early-phase response, and sensory irritation compared to wild-type mice. Studies with p75-NTR (-/-) knockout mice showed that these NGF effects are at least in part mediated by the low-affinity neurotrophin receptor. Thus, our experiments suggest that NGF and BDNF have a profound, but differential impact on allergic airway dysfunction.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Allergens
  • Animals
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / physiology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / immunology
  • Hypersensitivity / physiopathology*
  • Inflammation / physiopathology
  • Mice
  • Nerve Growth Factors / immunology
  • Nerve Growth Factors / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology


  • Allergens
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Nerve Growth Factors