Although type-2–induced (T2-induced) epithelial dysfunction is likely to profoundly alter epithelial differentiation and repair in asthma, the mechanisms for these effects are poorly understood. A role for specific mucins, heavily N-glycosylated epithelial glycoproteins, in orchestrating epithelial cell fate in response to T2 stimuli has not previously been investigated. Levels of a sialylated MUC4β isoform were found to be increased in airway specimens from asthmatic patients in association with T2 inflammation. We hypothesized that IL-13 would increase sialylation of MUC4β, thereby altering its function and that the β-galactoside α-2,6-sialyltransferase 1 (ST6GAL1) would regulate the sialylation. Using human biologic specimens and cultured primary human airway epithelial cells (HAECs),we demonstrated that IL-13 increases ST6GAL1-mediated sialylation of MUC4β and that both were increased in asthma, particularly in sputum supernatant and/or fresh isolated HAECs with elevated T2 biomarkers. ST6GAL1-induced sialylation of MUC4β altered its lectin binding and secretion. Both ST6GAL1 and MUC4β inhibited epithelial cell proliferation while promoting goblet cell differentiation. These in vivo and in vitro data provide strong evidence for a critical role for ST6GAL1-induced sialylation of MUC4β in epithelial dysfunction associated with T2-high asthma, thereby identifying specific sialylation pathways as potential targets in asthma.


Xiuxia Zhou, Carol L. Kinlough, Rebecca P. Hughey, Mingzhu Jin, Hideki Inoue, Emily Etling, Brian D. Modena, Naftali Kaminski, Eugene R. Bleecker, Deborah A. Meyers, Nizar N. Jarjour, John B. Trudeau, Fernando Holguin, Anuradha Ray, Sally E. Wenzel


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