Targeting defective pulmonary innate immunity - A new therapeutic option?

Pharmacol Ther. 2020 May:209:107500. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2020.107500. Epub 2020 Feb 13.


Chronic pulmonary conditions now account for 1 in 15 deaths in the US and mortality is increasing. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is due to become the 3rd largest cause of mortality by 2030 and mortality from other respiratory conditions such as asthma, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and cystic fibrosis are not reducing. There is an urgent need for novel therapies to address this problem as many of the current strategies targeting inflammation are not sufficient. The innate immune system of the lung is an important defence against invading pathogens, but in many chronic pulmonary diseases, this system mounts an inappropriate response. In COPD, macrophages are increased in number, but fail to clear pathogens correctly and become highly activated. This leads to increased damage and remodelling of the airways. In idiopathic fibrosis, there is a switch of macrophage phenotype to a cell that promotes abnormal repair. Neutrophils also display dysfunction in COPD where aberrant migratory profiles may lead to increased damage to lung tissue and emphysema; while in cystic fibrosis the proteolytic lung environment damages neutrophil receptors leading to ineffective phagocytosis and migration. Targeting the innate immune system to restore 'normal function' could have enormous benefits. Improving phagocytosis of pathogens could reduce exacerbations and hence the associated decline in lung function, and novel therapeutics such as sulforaphane appear to do this in vitro. Other natural products such as resveratrol and derivatives also have anti-inflammatory properties. Statins have traditionally been used to manage cholesterol levels in hypercholesterolaemia, however these molecules also have beneficial effects on the innate immune cells. Statins have been shown to be anti-inflammatory and restore aberrant neutrophil chemotaxis in aged cells. Other possible agents that may be efficacious are senolytics. These compounds include natural products such as quercetin which have anti-inflammatory properties but can also suppress viral replication. As viruses have been shown to suppress phagocytosis of macrophages, it is possible that these compounds could have benefit during viral exacerbations to protect this innate response. These compounds demonstrate that it is possible to address defective innate responses in the lung but a better understanding of the mechanisms driving defective innate immunity in pulmonary disease may lead to improved therapeutics.

Keywords: Anti-inflammatory; Macrophage; Neutrophil; Senolytic; Statin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Cystic Fibrosis / drug therapy
  • Cystic Fibrosis / immunology
  • Drug Delivery Systems / methods
  • Drug Delivery Systems / trends*
  • Humans
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors / administration & dosage
  • Immunity, Innate / drug effects
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology*
  • Lung / drug effects
  • Lung / immunology*
  • Macrophages, Alveolar / drug effects
  • Macrophages, Alveolar / immunology
  • Neutrophils / drug effects
  • Neutrophils / immunology
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / drug therapy
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / immunology
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / immunology*


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors