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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1999 Mar 16;96(6):3081-6.

Epidermal growth factor system regulates mucin production in airways.

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  • 1Cardiovascular Research Institute and Departments of Medicine and Physiology, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143-0130, USA.


Goblet-cell hyperplasia is a critical pathological feature in hypersecretory diseases of airways. However, the underlying mechanisms are unknown, and no effective therapy exists. Here we show that stimulation of epidermal growth factor receptors (EGF-R) by its ligands, EGF and transforming growth factor alpha (TGFalpha), causes MUC5AC expression in airway epithelial cells both in in vitro and in vivo. We found that a MUC5AC-inducing epithelial cell line, NCI-H292, expresses EGF-R constitutively; EGF-R gene expression was stimulated further by tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFalpha). EGF-R ligands increased the expression of MUC5AC at both gene and protein levels, and this effect was potentiated by TNFalpha. Selective EGF-R tyrosine kinase inhibitors blocked MUC5AC expression induced by EGF-R ligands. Pathogen-free rats expressed little EGF-R protein in airway epithelial cells; intratracheal instillation of TNFalpha induced EGF-R in airway epithelial cells, and subsequent instillation of EGF-R ligands increased the number of goblet cells, Alcian blue-periodic acid-Schiff staining (reflecting mucous glycoconjugates), and MUC5AC gene expression, whereas TNFalpha, EGF, or TGFalpha alone was without effect. In sensitized rats, three intratracheal instillations of ovalbumin resulted in EGF-R expression and goblet-cell production in airway epithelium. Pretreatment with EGF-R tyrosine kinase inhibitor, BIBX1522, prevented goblet-cell production both in rats stimulated by TNFalpha-EGF-R ligands and in an asthma model. These findings suggest potential roles for inhibitors of the EGF-R cascade in hypersecretory diseases of airways.

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