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Mucosal Immunol. 2017 Nov;10(6):1400-1411. doi: 10.1038/mi.2017.3. Epub 2017 Feb 1.

Elevated GDF-15 contributes to pulmonary inflammation upon cigarette smoke exposure.

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Laboratory for Translational Research in Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases, Department of Respiratory Medicine, Ghent University Hospital, Ghent, Belgium.
Respiratory Medicine, University Hospital Leuven, Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, KU Leuven, Belgium.
Unit for Molecular Immunology and Inflammation, Inflammation Research Center VIB Ghent University and Department of Rheumatology, Ghent University Hospital, Ghent, Belgium.


The molecular mechanisms underlying the pathogenesis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are still unclear, however signaling pathways associated with lung development, such as the transforming growth factor (TGF)-β superfamily, could be implicated in COPD. Growth differentiation factor (GDF)-15, a member of the TGF-β superfamily, is involved in inflammation, mucus secretion, and cachexia. We analyzed the pulmonary expression of GDF-15 in smokers and patients with COPD, in cigarette smoke (CS)-exposed cultures of primary human bronchial epithelial cells (pHBECs), and in CS-exposed mice. Next, we exposed GDF-15 KO and control mice to air or CS and evaluated pulmonary inflammation. GDF-15 levels were higher in sputum supernatant and lung tissue of patients with COPD and smokers without COPD compared with never smokers. Immunohistochemistry revealed GDF-15 staining in the airway epithelium. Increased expression and secretion of GDF-15 was confirmed in vitro in CS-exposed pHBECs compared with air-exposed pHBECs. Similarly, GDF-15 levels were increased in lungs of CS-exposed mice. Importantly, GDF-15 deficiency attenuated the CS-induced pulmonary inflammation. These results suggest that increased GDF-15-as observed in lungs of smokers and patients with COPD-contributes to CS-induced pulmonary inflammation.

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