Rationale: Infection with Pneumocystis, an opportunistic fungal pathogen, can result in fulminant pneumonia in the clinical setting of patients with immunosuppression. In murine models, Pneumocystis has previously been shown to induce a CD4+ T cell-dependent eosinophilic response in the lung capable of providing protection.
Objectives: We sought to explore the role of Pneumocystis in generating asthma-like lung pathology, given the natural eosinophilic response to infection.
Methods: Pneumocystis infection or antigen treatment was used to induce asthma-like pathology in wild-type mice. The roles of CD4+ T cells and eosinophils were examined using antibody depletion and knockout mice, respectively. The presence of anti-Pneumocystis antibodies in human serum samples was detected by ELISA and Western blotting.
Measurements and main results: Pneumocystis infection generates a strong type II response in the lung that requires CD4+ T cells. Pneumocystis infection was capable of priming a Th2 response similar to that of a commonly studied airway allergen, the house dust mite. Pneumocystis antigen treatment was also capable of inducing allergic inflammation in the lung, resulting in anti-Pneumocystis IgE production, goblet cell hyperplasia, and increased airway resistance. In the human population, patients with severe asthma had increased levels of anti-Pneumocystis IgG and IgE compared with healthy control subjects. Patients with severe asthma with elevated anti-Pneumocystis IgG levels had worsened symptom scores and lung parameters such as decreased forced expiratory volume and increased residual volume compared with patients with severe asthma who had low anti-Pneumocystis IgG.
Conclusions: The present study demonstrates for the first time, to our knowledge, that Pneumocystis is an airway allergen capable of inducing asthma-like lung pathology.
Keywords: Pneumocystis; T cells; allergic inflammation; asthma.