Overproduction of cytokines by T helper 2 (Th2) cells in the lung is thought to be a cause of asthma. Here we report that innate lymphocytes termed lung natural helper (LNH) cells are a T cell-independent source of Th2 cell-type cytokines in protease allergen-treated lungs. LNH (Lin(-)Sca-1(+)c-kit(+/lo)CD25(+)CD127(+)) cells, when stimulated by IL-33 plus IL-2, IL-7, or thymic stroma lymphopoietin (TSLP), produced large amounts of IL-5 and IL-13. Intranasal administration of protease allergen papain induced eosinophil infiltration and mucus hyperproduction in the lung of wild-type and Rag1(-/-) mice, but not in Rag2(-/-)Il2rg(-/-) mice that lack LNH cells. LNH cell depletion inhibited papain-induced airway inflammation in Rag1(-/-) mice whereas adoptive transfer of LNH cells enabled Rag2(-/-)Il2rg(-/-) mice to respond to papain. Treatment of lung explants with papain induced IL-33 and TSLP production by stroma cells and IL-5 and IL-13 production by LNH cells. Thus, LNH cells are critical for protease allergen-induced airway inflammation.
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