The role of miR-155 in cigarette smoke-induced pulmonary inflammation and COPD


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a highly prevalent respiratory disease characterized by airflow limitation and chronic inflammation. MiR-155 is described as an ancient regulator of the immune system. Our objective was to establish a role for miR-155 in cigarette smoke (CS)-induced inflammation and COPD. We demonstrate increased miR-155 expression by RT-qPCR in lung tissue of smokers without airflow limitation and patients with COPD compared to never smokers and in lung tissue and alveolar macrophages of CS-exposed mice compared to air-exposed mice. In addition, we exposed wild type and miR-155 deficient mice to CS and show an attenuated inflammatory profile in the latter. Alveolar macrophages were sorted by FACS from the different experimental groups and their gene expression profile was analyzed by RNA sequencing. This analysis revealed increased expression of miR-155 targets and an attenuation of the CS-induced increase in inflammation-related genes in miR-155 deficient mice. Moreover, intranasal instillation of a specific miR-155 inhibitor attenuated the CS-induced pulmonary inflammation in mice. Finally, elastase-induced emphysema and lung functional changes were significantly attenuated in miR-155 deficient mice. In conclusion, we highlight a role for miR-155 in CS-induced inflammation and the pathogenesis of COPD, implicating miR-155 as a new therapeutic target in COPD.

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Fig. 1: Hsa-miR-155-5p expression in never smokers, smokers without airflow limitation and patients with COPD and correlation with lung function parameters. Mmu-miR-155 expression in total lung tissue and sorted alveolar macrophages of air and cigarette smoke-exposed WT mice.
Fig. 2: Inflammatory cell numbers in the bronchoalveolar lavage fluid of WT and miR-155 KO mice exposed to air or cigarette smoke for four weeks.
Fig. 3: Effect of miR-155 deficiency on cytokine/chemokine protein levels in BAL supernatants.
Fig. 4: Poly-A+ sequencing of sorted alveolar macrophages from WT and miR-155 deficient mice.
Fig. 5: Expression levels of a subset of differentially expressed genes in sorted alveolar macrophages from WT and miR-155 deficient mice.
Fig. 6: Inflammatory cell numbers in the bronchoalveolar lavage fluid of air or cigarette smoke-exposed WT mice treated with a miR-155 inhibitor or scrambled control.
Fig. 7: Elastase-induced emphysema, inflammation and lung functional changes are attenuated in miR-155 deficient mice.


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The authors would like to thank Greet Barbier, Indra De Borle, Katleen De Saedeleer, Anouck Goethals, Marie-Rose Mouton and Ann Neesen (Department of Respiratory Medicine, Ghent University) for their excellent technical assistance. We would also like to thank Prof. Wim Janssens and Dr. Bart Vanaudenaerde (Department of Pneumology, Catholic University of Leuven) for providing us with explant lungs of patients with severe COPD, and Prof. Dirk Elewaut (Department of Rheumatology, Ghent University) for the use of the FACSAria. The research described in this article was supported by the Concerted Research Action of the Ghent University (BOF/GOA, 01G02714 and 01G00819) and by the Fund for Scientific Research in Flanders (FWO Vlaanderen, G052518N and EOS‐contract G0G2318N). F.M.V. and S.P. are post-doctoral researchers of the Fund for Scientific Research–Flanders and this work was further supported by a Special Research Fund (BOF) scholarship of Ghent University to Francisco Avila Cobos (BOF.DOC.2017.0026.01).

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K.R.B., G.G.B., G.F.J., P.M., H.P.V.E., and E.G.D.S. conceived the project and designed the experiments; K.R.B., F.M.V., E.B., S.P., P.M., H.P.V.E., K.V., and E.G.D.S. conducted the experiments; F.A.C., K.R.B., G.G.B., G.F.J., F.M.V., T.M., H.P.V.E., and E.G.D.S. contributed to the data analysis and interpretation; E.G.D.S. wrote the manuscript and all authors contributed to writing and editing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to K. R. Bracke.

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G.F.J. reports grants and personal fees from AstraZeneca, grants from Chiesi, personal fees from Eureca, grants and personal fees from GlaxoSmithKline, grants and personal fees from Novartis, personal fees from Teva, outside the submitted work. T.M. reports grants from Belspo, grants from Ghent University, during the conduct of the study; personal fees from GlaxoSmithKline, outside the submitted work; and is shareholder of Oryzon Genomics. All other authors have nothing to disclose.

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De Smet, E.G., Van Eeckhoutte, H.P., Avila Cobos, F. et al. The role of miR-155 in cigarette smoke-induced pulmonary inflammation and COPD. Mucosal Immunol 13, 423–436 (2020).

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