Blume, Cornelia; Swindle, Emily J; Gilles, Stefanie; Traidl-Hoffmann, Claudia; Davies, Donna E
Low molecular weight components of pollen alter bronchial epithelial barrier functions.
The bronchial epithelium plays a key role in providing a protective barrier against many environmental substances of anthropogenic or natural origin which enter the lungs during breathing. Appropriate responses to these agents are critical for regulation of tissue homeostasis, while inappropriate responses may contribute to disease pathogenesis. Here, we compared epithelial barrier responses to different pollen species, characterized the active pollen components and the signaling pathways leading to epithelial activation. Polarized bronchial cells were exposed to extracts of timothy grass (Phleum pratense), ragweed (Ambrosia artemisifolia), mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), birch (Betula alba) and pine (Pinus sylvestris) pollens. All pollen species caused a decrease in ionic permeability as monitored trans-epithelial electrical resistance (TER) and induced polarized release of mediators analyzed by ELISA, with grass pollen showing the highest activity. Ultrafiltration showed that the responses were due to components <3kDa. However, lipid mediators, including phytoprostane E1, had no effect on TER, and caused only modest induction of mediator release. Reverse-phase chromatography separated 2 active fractions: the most hydrophilic maximally affected cytokine release whereas the other only affected TER. Inhibitor studies revealed that JNK played a more dominant role in regulation of barrier permeability in response to grass pollen exposure, whereas ERK and p38 controlled cytokine release. Adenosine and the flavonoid isorhamnetin present in grass pollen contributed to the overall effect on airway epithelial barrier responses. In conclusion, bronchial epithelial barrier functions are differentially affected by several low molecular weight components released by pollen. Furthermore, ionic permeability and innate cytokine production are differentially regulated.