Background: Influenza A viruses cause life-threatening pneumonia and lung injury in the lower respiratory tract. Application of high GM-CSF levels prior to infection has been shown to reduce morbidity and mortality from pathogenic influenza infection in mice, but the mechanisms of protection and treatment efficacy have not been established.
Methods: Mice were infected intranasally with influenza A virus (PR8 strain). Supra-physiologic levels of GM-CSF were induced in the airways using the double transgenic GM-CSF (DTGM) or littermate control mice starting on 3 days post-infection (dpi). Assessment of respiratory mechanical parameters was performed using the flexiVent rodent ventilator. RNA sequence analysis was performed on FACS-sorted airway macrophage subsets at 8 dpi.
Results: Supra-physiologic levels of GM-CSF conferred a survival benefit, arrested the deterioration of lung mechanics, and reduced the abundance of protein exudates in bronchoalveolar (BAL) fluid to near baseline levels. Transcriptome analysis, and subsequent validation ELISA assays, revealed that excess GM-CSF re-directs macrophages from an "M1-like" to a more "M2-like" activation state as revealed by alterations in the ratios of CXCL9 and CCL17 in BAL fluid, respectively. Ingenuity pathway analysis predicted that GM-CSF surplus during IAV infection elicits expression of anti-inflammatory mediators and moderates M1 macrophage pro-inflammatory signaling by Type II interferon (IFN-γ).
Conclusions: Our data indicate that application of high levels of GM-CSF in the lung after influenza A virus infection alters pathogenic "M1-like" macrophage inflammation. These results indicate a possible therapeutic strategy for respiratory virus-associated pneumonia and acute lung injury.
Keywords: Alveolar; Exudative; GM-CSF; Influenza; Interferon; Macrophage; Pneumonia; RNA-seq.