Human Lung Fibroblasts Present Bacterial Antigens to Autologous Lung Th Cells

J Immunol. 2017 Jan 1;198(1):110-118. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1600602. Epub 2016 Nov 28.


Lung fibroblasts are key structural cells that reside in the submucosa where they are in contact with large numbers of CD4+ Th cells. During severe viral infection and chronic inflammation, the submucosa is susceptible to bacterial invasion by lung microbiota such as nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHi). Given their proximity in tissue, we hypothesized that human lung fibroblasts play an important role in modulating Th cell responses to NTHi. We demonstrate that fibroblasts express the critical CD4+ T cell Ag-presentation molecule HLA-DR within the human lung, and that this expression can be recapitulated in vitro in response to IFN-γ. Furthermore, we observed that cultured lung fibroblasts could internalize live NTHi. Although unable to express CD80 and CD86 in response to stimulation, fibroblasts expressed the costimulatory molecules 4-1BBL, OX-40L, and CD70, all of which are related to memory T cell activation and maintenance. CD4+ T cells isolated from the lung were predominantly (mean 97.5%) CD45RO+ memory cells. Finally, cultured fibroblasts activated IFN-γ and IL-17A cytokine production by autologous, NTHi-specific lung CD4+ T cells, and cytokine production was inhibited by a HLA-DR blocking Ab. These results indicate a novel role for human lung fibroblasts in contributing to responses against bacterial infection through activation of bacteria-specific CD4+ T cells.

MeSH terms

  • Antigen Presentation / immunology*
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / immunology
  • Antigens, Bacterial / immunology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Fibroblasts / immunology*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Haemophilus Infections / immunology
  • Haemophilus influenzae / immunology
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Lung / immunology*
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / immunology*


  • Antigens, Bacterial