European Respiratory Society

Epidermal growth factor receptor signalling contributes to house dust mite-induced epithelial barrier dysfunction

I.H. Heijink, A. van Oosterhout, A. Kapus


Impaired airway epithelial barrier function has emerged as a key factor in the pathogenesis of allergic asthma. We aimed to discern the involvement of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) in allergen-induced epithelial barrier impairment, as we previously observed that house dust mite (HDM) signals through EGFR.

We investigated the junctional integrity of human bronchial epithelial cells using electric cell-substrate impedance sensing and immunofluorescent staining.

HDM induced a rapid, transient fall in epithelial resistance, concomitant with delocalisation of E-cadherin and zona occludens (ZO)-1, and proteolytic cleavage of the latter. EGFR inhibition by AG1478 reduced the HDM-triggered decrease in epithelial resistance and improved restoration of epithelial junctions. Similarly, AG1478 increased epithelial barrier recovery upon electroporation-induced injury, although it delayed the migration phase of the wound healing response. HDM-promoted redistribution of E-cadherin was mediated via EGFR-dependent activation of protease-activated receptor (PAR)-2, while the concomitant ZO-1 degradation was PAR-2/EGFR-independent. Importantly, the fibrogenic cytokine transforming growth factor (TGF)-β prolonged HDM-induced EGFR phosphorylation and inhibited ligand-induced EGFR internalisation/degradation, which resulted in sustained E-cadherin and ZO-1 redistribution.

Thus, allergen-induced, PAR-2/EGFR-mediated signalling decreases epithelial resistance and promotes junction disassembly. The TGF-β-enhanced EGFR signalling may be an important contributor to barrier dysfunction and increased epithelial vulnerability in response to HDM.


  • Support Statement

    This study was supported by a grant from the Netherlands Asthma Foundation (I.H. Heijink, No. and grants from the Kidney Foundation of Canada and the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (A. Kapus).

  • Statement of Interest

    None declared.

  • Received August 6, 2009.
  • Accepted March 15, 2010.
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