Type II alveolar epithelial cell aryl hydrocarbon receptor protects against allergic airway inflammation through controlling cell autophagy

Front Immunol. 2022 Jul 22;13:964575. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2022.964575. eCollection 2022.


Rationale: Aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), a ligand-activated transcription factor, has been considered as an important regulator for immune diseases. We have previously shown that AhR protects against allergic airway inflammation. The underlying mechanism, however, remains undetermined.

Objectives: We sought to determine whether AhR specifically in type II alveolar epithelial cells (AT2) modulates allergic airway inflammation and its underlying mechanisms.

Methods: The role of AhR in AT2 cells in airway inflammation was investigated in a mouse model of asthma with AhR conditional knockout mice in AT2 cells (Sftpc-Cre;AhRf/f ). The effect of AhR on allergen-induced autophagy was examined by both in vivo and in vitro analyses. The involvement of autophagy in airway inflammation was analyzed by using autophagy inhibitor chloroquine. The AhR-regulated gene profiling in AT2 cells was also investigated by RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) analysis.

Results: Sftpc-Cre;AhRf/f mice showed exacerbation of allergen-induced airway hyperresponsiveness and airway inflammation with elevated Th2 cytokines in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF). Notably, an increased allergen-induced autophagy was observed in the lung tissues of Sftpc-Cre;AhRf/f mice when compared with wild-type mice. Further analyses suggested a functional axis of AhR-TGF-β1 that is critical in driving allergic airway inflammation through regulating allergen-induced cellular autophagy. Furthermore, inhibition of autophagy with autophagy inhibitor chloroquine significantly suppressed cockroach allergen-induced airway inflammation, Th2 cytokines in BALFs, and expression of autophagy-related genes LC3 and Atg5 in the lung tissues. In addition, RNA-seq analysis suggests that autophagy is one of the major pathways and that CALCOCO2/NDP52 and S1009 are major autophagy-associated genes in AT2 cells that may contribute to the AhR-mediated cockroach allergen-induced airway inflammation and, subsequently, allergic asthma.

Conclusion: These results suggest that AhR in AT2 cells functions as a protective mechanism against allergic airway inflammation through controlling cell autophagy.

Keywords: AT2 cells; aryl hydrocarbon receptor; asthma; autophagy; cockroach allergen.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Allergens
  • Alveolar Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Asthma* / metabolism
  • Asthma* / pathology
  • Autophagy
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Chloroquine / pharmacology
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / genetics
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / metabolism*


  • Ahr protein, mouse
  • Allergens
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors
  • Cytokines
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon
  • Chloroquine