Not all asthmatic patients adequately respond to current available treatments, such as inhaled corticosteroids or omalizumab®. New treatments will aim to target the bronchial epithelium-immune response interaction using different pathways. HLA-G is involved in immunomodulation and may promote epithelial cell differentiation and proliferation. HLA-G protein has several isoforms generated by alternative splicing that might have differential functionalities. HLA-G protein expression and genetic polymorphisms have been reported to be associated with asthma. Our hypothesis is that bronchial epithelium from asthmatic patients displays less functional HLA-G isoforms. HLA-G transcriptional isoforms were quantified by real-time PCR in human bronchial epithelium cells (HBEC) grown in air-liquid interface culture obtained from five healthy controls (HC), seven patients with mild asthma (MA), and seven patients with severe asthma (SA). They were re-differentiated, and IL-13 exposure was used as a proxy for a pro-inflammatory cytokine. HLA-G protein expression was assessed by western blot analysis. HLA-G allele was typed by direct sequencing. Our results showed that both MA and SA display less functional HLA-G isoforms than HC (p < 0.05); in vitro HBEC re-differentiation from SA displays a particular isoform expression profile compared to MA and HC (p = 0.03); HLA-G*01:06 frequency in MA and SA was significantly higher than in the healthy population (p = 0.03 and p < 0.001, respectively); and IL-13 exposure had no impact on HLA-G expression. Our results support that an impaired expression of HLA-G isoforms in asthmatic patients could contribute to the loss of inflammation control and epithelium structural remodeling. Therefore, HLA-G might be an interesting alternative target for asthmatic patients not adequately responding to current drugs.
Keywords: HLA-G; asthma; epithelium; immunomodulation; isoforms.