A novel role for murine IL-4 in vivo: induction of MUC5AC gene expression and mucin hypersecretion

Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 1997 Apr;16(4):471-8. doi: 10.1165/ajrcmb.16.4.9115759.


Mucus hypersecretion and plugging of lower respiratory tract airways contributes to the morbidity and mortality associated with asthma. Interleukin (IL)-4 plays a putative role in some forms of asthma. Thus, transgenic mice that overexpress murine IL-4 selectively within the lung were used to study the effect of IL-4 on mucus glycoprotein gene expression and mucin release. Histologic examination of lung sections from IL-4 mice revealed that nonciliated epithelial cells from conducting airways were hypertrophic, due at least in part to the accumulation of mucus glycoprotein. The cytoplasm of these cells stained positively for glycoproteins using mucicarmine, alcian blue (AB), and periodic acid-Schiff (PAS). Ciliated cells were also enlarged but did not show any mucin-specific staining. Inclusion granules typically found in nonciliated (Clara) cells of control mice were absent in the IL-4 transgenic mice. Northern blot analysis of total RNA from lung tissue revealed that the expression of the MUC5AC, but not MUC2, mucin gene was distinctly upgraded in IL-4 transgenic mice compared to transgene-negative controls. In addition, a 5- to 10-fold increase in AB- and PAS-positive material was found in lavage fluid from IL-4 overexpressing mice compared to transgene-negative controls. Thus, the overexpression of IL-4 locally within the lung enhances mucus glycoprotein synthesis by altering gene expression, results in the accumulation of mucus glycoprotein in nonciliated epithelial cells, and induces the release of mucus into the airway lumen. We therefore hypothesize that the overproduction of mucus seen in some patients with asthma may be a direct result of the action of IL-4 within the inflamed lung.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alcian Blue
  • Animals
  • Bronchoalveolar Lavage Fluid
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology*
  • Interleukin-4 / physiology*
  • Lung / metabolism
  • Lung / ultrastructure
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Mucins / genetics*
  • Mucins / metabolism
  • Periodic Acid-Schiff Reaction


  • Mucins
  • Interleukin-4
  • Alcian Blue