A human model of asthma exacerbation reveals transcriptional programs and cell circuits specific to allergic asthma

Sci Immunol. 2023 May 12;8(83):eabq6352. doi: 10.1126/sciimmunol.abq6352. Epub 2023 May 5.


Asthma is a chronic disease most commonly associated with allergy and type 2 inflammation. However, the mechanisms that link airway inflammation to the structural changes that define asthma are incompletely understood. Using a human model of allergen-induced asthma exacerbation, we compared the lower airway mucosa in allergic asthmatics and allergic non-asthmatic controls using single-cell RNA sequencing. In response to allergen, the asthmatic airway epithelium was highly dynamic and up-regulated genes involved in matrix degradation, mucus metaplasia, and glycolysis while failing to induce injury-repair and antioxidant pathways observed in controls. IL9-expressing pathogenic TH2 cells were specific to asthmatic airways and were only observed after allergen challenge. Additionally, conventional type 2 dendritic cells (DC2 that express CD1C) and CCR2-expressing monocyte-derived cells (MCs) were uniquely enriched in asthmatics after allergen, with up-regulation of genes that sustain type 2 inflammation and promote pathologic airway remodeling. In contrast, allergic controls were enriched for macrophage-like MCs that up-regulated tissue repair programs after allergen challenge, suggesting that these populations may protect against asthmatic airway remodeling. Cellular interaction analyses revealed a TH2-mononuclear phagocyte-basal cell interactome unique to asthmatics. These pathogenic cellular circuits were characterized by type 2 programming of immune and structural cells and additional pathways that may sustain and amplify type 2 signals, including TNF family signaling, altered cellular metabolism, failure to engage antioxidant responses, and loss of growth factor signaling. Our findings therefore suggest that pathogenic effector circuits and the absence of proresolution programs drive structural airway disease in response to type 2 inflammation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Allergens
  • Antioxidants
  • Asthma* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity*
  • Inflammation


  • Antioxidants
  • Allergens