Background Epithelial barrier dysfunction and increased permeability may contribute to antigen sensitization and disease progression in asthma. Claudin-18.1 is the only known lung-specific tight junction protein, but its contribution to airway barrier function or asthma is unclear. Objectives We sought to test the hypotheses that claudin-18 is a determinant of airway epithelial barrier function that is downregulated by IL-13 and that claudin-18 deficiency results in increased aeroantigen sensitization and airway hyperresponsiveness. Methods Claudin-18.1 mRNA levels were measured in airway epithelial brushings from healthy controls and patients with asthma. In patients with asthma, claudin-18 levels were compared with a three-gene-mean marker of TH2 inflammation. Airway epithelial permeability changes due to claudin-18 deficiency were measured in 16HBE cells and claudin-18 null mice. The effect of IL-13 on claudin expression was determined in primary human airway epithelial cells and in mice. Airway hyperresponsiveness and serum IgE levels were compared in claudin-18 null and wild-type mice following aspergillus sensitization. Results Epithelial brushings from patients with asthma (n = 67) had significantly lower claudin-18 mRNA levels than did those from healthy controls (n = 42). Claudin-18 levels were lowest among TH2-high patients with asthma. Loss of claudin-18 was sufficient to impair epithelial barrier function in 16HBE cells and in mouse airways. IL-13 decreased claudin-18 expression in primary human cells and in mice. Claudin-18 null mice had significantly higher serum IgE levels and increased airway responsiveness following intranasal aspergillus sensitization. Conclusions These data support the hypothesis that claudin-18 is an essential contributor to the airway epithelial barrier to aeroantigens. Furthermore, TH2 inflammation suppresses claudin-18 expression, potentially promoting sensitization and airway hyperresponsiveness.
Sweerus, K., Lachowicz-Scroggins, M., Gordon, E., LaFemina, M., Huang, X., Parikh, M., … Frank, J. A. (2017). Claudin-18 deficiency is associated with airway epithelial barrier dysfunction and asthma. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 139(1), 72-81.e1. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2016.02.035