Pseudomonas aeruginosa-induced apoptosis in airway epithelial cells is mediated by gap junctional communication in a JNK-dependent manner

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Journal Article
Journal of Immunology, 2014, 192 (10), pp. 4804 - 4812
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Chronic infection and inflammation of the airways is a hallmark of cystic fibrosis (CF), a disease caused by mutations in the CF transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene. The response of the CF airway epithelium to the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa is characterized by altered inflammation and apoptosis. In this study, we examined innate immune recognition and epithelial responses at the level of the gap junction protein connexin43 (Cx43) in polarized human airway epithelial cells upon infection by PAO1. We report that PAO1 activates cell surface receptors to elicit an intracellular signaling cascade leading to enhancement of gap junctional communication. Expression of Cx43 involved an opposite regulation exerted by JNK and p38 MAPKs. PAO1-induced apoptosis was increased in the presence of a JNK inhibitor, but latter effect was prevented by lentiviral expression of a Cx43-specific short hairpin RNA. Moreover, we found that JNK activity was upregulated by pharmacological inhibition of CFTR in Calu-3 cells, whereas correction of a CF airway cell line (CF15 cells) by adenoviral expression of CFTR reduced the activation of this MAPK. Interestingly, CFTR inhibition in Calu-3 cells was associated with decreased Cx43 expression and reduced apoptosis. These results indicate that Cx43 expression is a component of the response of airway epithelial cells to innate immune activation by regulating the survival/apoptosis balance. Defective CFTR could alter this equilibrium with deleterious consequences on the CF epithelial response to P. aeruginosa. Copyright © 2014 by The American Association of Immunologists, Inc.
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