Background: Bacterial and viral exacerbations play a crucial role in a variety of lung diseases including COPD or asthma. Since the lung epithelium is a major source of various inflammatory mediators that affect the immune response, we analyzed the inflammatory reaction of primary lung epithelial cells to different microbial molecules that are recognized by Toll-like receptors (TLR).
Methods: The effects of TLR ligands on primary small airway epithelial cells were analyzed in detail with respect to cytokine, chemokine and matrix metalloproteinase secretion. In addition, the regulation of the expression of TLRs and their adaptor proteins in small airway epithelial cells was investigated.
Results: Our data demonstrate that poly(I:C), a synthetic analog of viral dsRNA, mediated the strongest proinflammatory effects among the tested ligands, including an increased secretion of IL-6, IL-8, TNF-alpha, GM-CSF, GRO-alpha, TARC, MCP-1, MIP-3alpha, RANTES, IFN-beta, IP-10 and ITAC as well as an increased release of MMP-1, MMP-8, MMP-9, MMP-10 and MMP-13. Furthermore, our data show that poly(I:C) as well as type-1 and type-2 cytokines have a pronounced effect on the expression of TLRs and molecules involved in TLR signaling in small airway epithelial cells. Poly(I:C) induced an elevated expression of TLR1, TLR2 and TLR3 and increased the gene expression of the general TLR adaptor MyD88 and IRAK-2. Simultaneously, poly(I:C) decreased the expression of TLR5, TLR6 and TOLLIP.
Conclusion: Poly(I:C), an analog of viral dsRNA and a TLR3 ligand, triggers a strong inflammatory response in small airway epithelial cells that is likely to contribute to viral exacerbations of pulmonary diseases like asthma or COPD. The pronounced effects of poly(I:C) on the expression of Toll-like receptors and molecules involved in TLR signaling is assumed to influence the immune response of the lung epithelium to viral and bacterial infections. Likewise, the regulation of TLR expression by type-1 and type-2 cytokines is important considering the impact of exogenous and endogenous TLR ligands on Th1 or Th2 driven pulmonary inflammations like COPD or asthma, respectively.