Foxa3 induces goblet cell metaplasia and inhibits innate antiviral immunity

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2014 Feb 1;189(3):301-13. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201306-1181OC.


Rationale: Goblet cell metaplasia accompanies common pulmonary disorders that are prone to recurrent viral infections. Mechanisms regulating both goblet cell metaplasia and susceptibility to viral infection associated with chronic lung diseases are incompletely understood.

Objectives: We sought to identify the role of the transcription factor FOXA3 in regulation of goblet cell metaplasia and pulmonary innate immunity.

Methods: FOXA3 was identified in airways from patients with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. We produced transgenic mice conditionally expressing Foxa3 in airway epithelial cells and developed human bronchial epithelial cells expressing Foxa3. Foxa3-regulated genes were identified by immunostaining, Western blotting, and RNA analysis. Direct binding of FOXA3 to target genes was identified by chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing correlated with RNA sequencing.

Measurements and main results: FOXA3 was highly expressed in airway goblet cells from patients with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. FOXA3 was induced by either IL-13 or rhinovirus. Foxa3 induced goblet cell metaplasia and enhanced expression of a network of genes mediating mucus production. Paradoxically, FOXA3 inhibited rhinovirus-induced IFN production, IRF-3 phosphorylation, and IKKε expression and inhibited viral clearance and expression of genes required for antiviral defenses, including MDA5, RIG-I, TLR3, IRF7/9, and nuclear factor-κB.

Conclusions: FOXA3 induces goblet cell metaplasia in response to infection or Th2 stimulation. Suppression of IFN signaling by FOXA3 provides a plausible mechanism that may serve to limit ongoing Th1 inflammation during the resolution of acute viral infection; however, inhibition of innate immunity by FOXA3 may contribute to susceptibility to viral infections associated with chronic lung disorders accompanied by chronic goblet cell metaplasia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asthma / complications
  • Asthma / immunology
  • Asthma / metabolism*
  • Asthma / pathology
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Blotting, Western
  • Chromatin Immunoprecipitation
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Goblet Cells / immunology
  • Goblet Cells / metabolism
  • Goblet Cells / pathology*
  • Hepatocyte Nuclear Factor 3-gamma / immunology
  • Hepatocyte Nuclear Factor 3-gamma / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / physiology*
  • Interferons / metabolism
  • Metaplasia
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Picornaviridae Infections / etiology
  • Picornaviridae Infections / immunology*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / complications
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / immunology
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / metabolism*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / pathology
  • Rhinovirus
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Th1-Th2 Balance


  • Biomarkers
  • FOXA3 protein, human
  • Foxa3 protein, mouse
  • Hepatocyte Nuclear Factor 3-gamma
  • Interferons