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Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz. 1997;92 Suppl 2:75-91.

IL-5 and IL-5 receptor in asthma.

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Department of Medicine, Meakins-Christie Laboratories, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


Eosinophils, along with mast cells are key cells involved in the innate immune response against parasitic infection whereas the adaptive immune response is largely dependent on lymphocytes. In chronic parasitic disease and in chronic allergic disease, IL-5 is predominantly a T cell derived cytokine which is particularly important for the terminal differentiation, activation and survival of committed eosinophil precursors. The human IL-5 gene is located on chromosome 5 in a gene cluster that contains the evolutionary related IL-4 family of cytokine genes. The human IL-5 receptor complex is a heterodimer consisting of a unique alpha subunit (predominantly expressed on eosinophils) and a beta subunit which is shared between the receptors for IL-3 & GM-CSF (more widely expressed). The alpha subunit is required for ligand-specific binding whereas association with the beta subunit results in increased binding affinity. The alternative splicing of the alpha IL-5R gene which contains 14 exons can yield several alpha-IL-5R isoforms including a membrane-anchored isoform (alpha IL-5Rm) and a soluble isoform (alpha IL-5Rs). Cytokines such as IL-5 produce specific and non-specific cellular responses through specific cell membrane receptor mediated activation of intracellular signal transduction pathways which, to a large part, regulate gene expression. The major intracellular signal transduction mechanism is activation of non-receptor associated tyrosine kinases including JAK and MAP kinases which can then transduce signals via a novel family of transcriptional factors named signal transducers and activators of transcription (STATS). JAK2, STAT1, and STAT5 appear to be particularly important in IL-5 mediated eosinophil responses. Asthma is characterized by episodic airways obstruction, increased bronchial responsiveness, and airway inflammation. Several studies have shown an association between the number of activated T cells and eosinophils in the airways and abnormalities in FEV1, airway reactivity and clinical severity in asthma. It has now been well documented that IL-5 is highly expressed in the bronchial mucosa of atopic and intrinsic asthmatics and that the increased IL-5 mRNA present in airway tissues is predominantly T cell derived. Immunocytochemical staining of bronchial biopsy sections has confirmed that IL-5 mRNA transcripts are translated into protein in asthmatic subjects. Furthermore, the number of activated CD4 + T cells and IL-5 mRNA positive cells are increased in asthmatic airways following antigen challenge and studies that have examined IL-5 expression in asthmatic subjects before and after steroids have shown significantly decreased expression following oral corticosteroid treatment in steroid-sensitive asthma but not in steroid resistant and chronic severe steroid dependent asthma. The link between T cell derived IL-5 and eosinophil activation in asthmatic airways is further strengthened by the demonstration that there is an increased number of alpha IL-5R mRNA positive cells in the bronchial biopsies of atopic and non-atopic asthmatic subjects and that the eosinophil is the predominant site of this increased alpha IL-5R mRNA expression. We have also shown that the subset of activated eosinophils that expressed mRNA for membrane bound alpha IL-5r inversely correlated with FEV1, whereas the subset of activated eosinophils that expressed mRNA for soluble alpha IL-5r directly correlated with FEV1. Hence, not only does this data suggest that the presence of eosinophils expressing alpha IL-5R mRNA contribute towards the pathogenesis of bronchial asthma, but also that the eosinophil phenotype with respect to alpha IL-5R isoform expression is of central importance. Finally, there are several animal, and more recently in vitro lung explant, models of allergen induced eosinophilia, late airway responses (LARS), and bronchial hyperresponsiveness (BHR)--all of which support a link between IL-5 and airway eosinophilia and bronc.

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