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Evidence that CFTR is expressed in rat tracheal smooth muscle cells and contributes to bronchodilation
© Vandebrouck et al. 2006
Received: 27 June 2006
Accepted: 28 August 2006
Published: 28 August 2006
The airway functions are profoundly affected in many diseases including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cystic fibrosis (CF). CF the most common lethal autosomal recessive genetic disease is caused by mutations of the CFTR gene, which normally encodes a multifunctional and integral membrane protein, the CF transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) expressed in airway epithelial cells.
To demonstrate that CFTR is also expressed in tracheal smooth muscle cells (TSMC), we used iodide efflux assay to analyse the chloride transports in organ culture of rat TSMC, immunofluorescence study to localize CFTR proteins and isometric contraction measurement on isolated tracheal rings to observe the implication of CFTR in the bronchodilation.
We characterized three different pathways stimulated by the cAMP agonist forskolin and the isoflavone agent genistein, by the calcium ionophore A23187 and by hypo-osmotic challenge. The pharmacology of the cAMP-dependent iodide efflux was investigated in detail. We demonstrated in rat TSMC that it is remarkably similar to that of the epithelial CFTR, both for activation (using three benzo [c]quinolizinium derivatives) and for inhibition (glibenclamide, DPC and CFTRinh-172). Using rat tracheal rings, we observed that the activation of CFTR by benzoquinolizinium derivatives in TSMC leads to CFTRinh-172-sensitive bronchodilation after constriction with carbachol. An immunolocalisation study confirmed expression of CFTR in tracheal myocytes.
Altogether, these observations revealed that CFTR in the airways of rat is expressed not only in the epithelial cells but also in tracheal smooth muscle cells leading to the hypothesis that this ionic channel could contribute to bronchodilation.
The balance between constrictor and relaxant stimuli influences the contractile state of the airway smooth muscle cell (SMC). In order to be able to propose novel therapeutic agents for the treatment of airway obstruction associated with several diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cystic fibrosis (CF), it is important to understand the mechanisms underlying control of the bronchoconstriction and dilatation. Ion channels in epithelial, glandular and smooth muscle cells are of fundamental importance in regulating airway functions. Voltage-dependent cation (calcium and potassium) channels have been studied in airway SMC playing a role in excitation-contraction coupling . Recently, the transient receptor potential (TRP) 6 channel has been identified in rabbit portal vein smooth muscle . Different types of K+ and non-selective cation channels are also present in airway SMC but their molecular entity as well as their physiological role on airway excitability and function have not been clearly established [3, 4]. On the contrary, relatively little work has been carried out on the Cl-channels present in airway SMC. However, depolarizing Calcium/Calmodulin Dependent Protein Kinase II (CaMKII)-phosphorylated calcium-activated Cl-currents coupled to intracellular calcium release have been identified in tracheal myocytes .
Cystic fibrosis, the most common lethal autosomal recessive genetic disease, is caused by mutations of the CF gene, which normally encodes the CF transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR), a multifunctional cAMP-dependent Cl- channel in the apical membrane of secretory epithelial cells . In CF, defective function of CFTR in airway epithelial cells and submucosal glands results in chronic involvement of the respiratory tract, manifested by progressive airway obstruction that begins early in life. Failure of Cl- secretion through CFTR or associated ion channels results in the deshydration of endobronchial secretions. Dessicated secretions block the airways and prevent elimination of bacteria . Bronchial hyper-reactivity is a common problem in CF, occurring in as many as 40% of affected individuals, which further contributes to the airway obstruction . A recent study suggests possible role for Cl- pathways in the modulation of airway smooth muscle function and implications for fundamental studies of airway function as well as therapeutic approaches to pulmonary disease .
Whereas CFTR has been generally regarded as specifically expressed in epithelial cells , evidence for its expression and/or function as a Cl- conductance has been obtained in cardiac muscle cells [10, 11], brain , endothelia [13, 14] and more recently in aortic SMC [15, 16]. In this study, we now present evidence that CFTR is also expressed in tracheal smooth muscle cells (TSMC). Exploiting new pharmacological tools (CFTR activators and inhibitors) we also provided evidence for its contribution to the bronchodilation.
Wistar male rats (250–300 g) were stunned and then killed by cervical dislocation according to the animal care and use local committee. Trachea were removed and placed into Krebs solution containing (in mM): 120 NaCl, 4.7 KCl, 2.5 CaCl2, 1.2 MgCl2, 1.2 KH2PO4, 15 NaHCO3, 11.1 D-glucose, pH 7.4.
The entire trachea preparation was rapidly removed and rinced in culture medium (DMEM-HEPES supplemented with 1 % penicillin-streptomycin, 1 % Na pyruvate, 1 % non essential amino acids). Smooth muscle part of the trachea was dissected under sterile conditions in culture medium and was cut in several pieces (1–2 mm2). Smooth muscle pieces were placed at the bottom of individual wells of 6-well culture plates containing culture medium enriched with 10 % foetal calf serum (FCS). Organ culture plates were placed in a humidified incubator at 37°C under 5% CO2 in air. The medium was changed every 48 h. After one week, confluent cells were rinsed twice with Hanks' balanced salt solution and then passaged with trypsin-EDTA. Isolated cells were then seeded in a 24-well culture plate for functional study of chloride channels activity. Cells were left in culture medium for 48 h before they were growth arrested using serum-free culture medium supplemented with 1% insulin-transferrin-selenium (ITS) (as previously described) .
Cells grown on glass coverslips were washed 3 times in Tris-buffered saline (TBS) and after fixation, non specific binding sites were blocked with TBS containing 0.5% BSA and 0.05% saponin for 1 h. Cells were incubated with an anti-CFTR C-terminal monoclonal antibody (1:100, Ig2a, mouse anti-human, R&D Systems, Minneapolis, MN, USA) or with monoclonal anti-alpha smooth muscle actin (1:200, IgG2a Cy3 conjugate, Sigma Chemicals, St Louis, MO, USA) for 2 h at room temperature. After 3 washes, cells were incubated with the FluoProbes 488 (1:400, Interchim, Montluçon, France) secondary antibody. In the control, the primary antibody was omitted. Nuclei were stained in blue with TO-PRO-3 iodide (Molecular Probes, Eugene, OR) for 15 min at room temperature (1:1000 in TBS). Fluorescence was examined with a spectral confocal station FV 1000 installed on an inverted microscope IX-81 (Olympus, Tokyo, Japan).
CFTR Cl- channel activity was assayed by measuring the rate of iodide (125I) efflux from cells as previously described . All experiments were performed with a MultiPROBE®IIex robotic liquid handling system (Perkin Elmer Life Sciences, Courtaboeuf, France). At the beginning of each experiment, cells were washed twice with efflux buffer containing (in mM) 136.9 NaCl, 5.4 KCl, 0.3 KH2PO4, 0.3 NaH2PO4, 1.3 CaCl2, 0.5 MgCl2, 0.4 MgSO4, 5.6 glucose and 10 HEPES, pH 7.4. Cells were incubated in efflux buffer containing Na125I (1 μCi Na125I/ml, NEN, Boston, MA) during 1 h at 37°C. Cells were then washed with efflux medium to remove extracellular125I. The loss of intracellular125I was determined by removing the medium with efflux buffer every 1 min for up to 10 min. The first three aliquots were used to establish a stable baseline in efflux buffer alone. A medium containing the appropriate drug was used for the remaining aliquots. Residual radioactivity was extracted with 0.1 N NaOH/0.1% SDS, and determined using a Packard Cobra™II gamma counter (Perkin Elmer life Sciences, Courtaboeuf, France). The fraction of initial intracellular125I lost during each time point was collected and time-dependent rates of125I efflux calculated from: ln (125It1 /125It2)/(t1 – t2) where125It is the intracellular125I at time t, and t1 and t2 successive time points . Curves were constructed by plotting rate of125I versus time. All comparisons were based on maximal values for the time-dependent rates (k = peak rates, min-1) excluding the points used to establish the baseline (k peak-k basal, min-1) . All inhibitors were pre-incubated 30 min.
Contraction measurement on isolated tracheal rings
After separation of connective tissues, the trachea was cut into rings of 3 mm length. Tracheas were mounted between a fixed clamp at the base of a water-jacketed 5 ml organ bath containing an oxygenated (95% O2 and 5% CO2) Krebs solution and an IT1-25 isometric force transducer (Emka Technologies, Paris, France) [15, 16]. All experiments were performed at 37°C. A basal tension of 2 g was applied in all experiments. During 1 h, tissues were rinsed three times in Krebs solution and the basal tone was always monitored and adjusted to 2 g. 1 μM Carbachol (CCH) were used to evoke the sustained contractile response. Once the sustained tension was established, the tissues were allowed to equilibrate further for 30 min before cumulative addition of agonist to the bath. Cumulative concentration-response relationships for the relaxant effect of MPB compounds were determined in trachea rings following stable contraction. The relaxant effect of CFTR agonists was expressed as percentage contraction of the agonist-constricted tracheal rings. IC50 was calculated as the drug concentration inducing a half-maximal dilatation (or inhibition of contraction).
Results are expressed as means ± SEM of n observations. Sets of data were compared with analysis of variance (ANOVA) or a Student's t test. Differences were considered statistically significant when P < 0.05. ns: non significant difference, * P < 0.05, ** P < 0.01, *** P < 0.001. All statistical tests were performed using GraphPad Prism version 4.0 for Windows (Graphpad Software, San Diego, CA) and Origin version 5.0 (Rockware, Golden, CO).
Drugs and chemical reagents
The benzo [c]quinolizinium compounds 10-chloro-6-hydroxybenzo [c]quinolizinium chloride (MPB-07), 5-butyl-10-chloro-6-hydroxybenzo [c]quinolizinium chloride (MPB-91) and 10-fluoro-6-hydroxybenzo [c]quinolizinium chloride (MPB-80) were prepared as described previously . Carbamylcholine, glibenclamide, Insulin – Transferrin – Selenium (ITS), monoclonal antibody anti-α-smooth muscle actin, Na pyruvate, non essential amino acids were purchased from Sigma Chemicals (Saint Quentin Fallavier, France). DMEM-HEPES, Foetal Calf Serum (FCS), Penicillin-Streptomycin, trypsin-EDTA and Hanks' balanced salt solution were purchased from Gibco (Invitrogen Corporation, Cergy Pontoise, France). CFTRinh-172 was purchased from Calbiochem (USA). All drugs were prepared in dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) except MPB-07, MPB-80 and carbachol that were prepared as stock solution in distilled water. The maximal concentration of DMSO used in experiments was 0.1 % for glibenclamide and 0.3 % for MPB-91 and had no effect on mechanical activity of the rings.
Analysis of chloride transports in organ culture of rat TSMC
Does CFTR underlie the cAMP-dependent chloride transport in rat TSMC?
Pharmacological activation of CFTR channels in rat TSMC
Role of CFTR in agonist-dependent bronchodilation of smooth muscle cells
The present study demonstrates for the first time that rat tracheal smooth cells express CFTR chloride channel and that its activation leads to a CFTRinh-172 dependent bronchodilation after muscarinic contraction. Based on our experiments, a number of important findings could be summarized as follow:
(i) three different Cl- transports stimulated by cAMP, intracellular calcium and cell volume are present in rat TSMC in organ culture,
(ii) the activation by the pharmacological CFTR activators MPB derivatives of the tracheal CFTR channel is remarkably similar to that of the epithelial CFTR. Moreover, the structural and pharmacological specificity of benzo [c]quinolizinium agents (i.e. the different activity of MPB-80, MPB-07 and MPB-91) are conserved for CFTR in epithelia and TSMC,
(iii) the inhibitory profile (glibenclamide, DPC and CFTRinh-172) of the tracheal CFTR channel activity is identical to that of the epithelial CFTR suggesting that CFTR is the major pathway for cAMP-regulated chloride transport in TSMC,
(iv) finally, using isometric contraction measurement on rat isolated tracheal rings, we found that the activation of CFTR leads to bronchodilation with a concentration-dependent inhibition by CFTRinh-172.
The airway is a complex system with more than 20 different cell types, a smooth muscle layer surrounding an epithelial layer facing the lumen. In this multicellular organ, CFTR is functionally expressed both in epithelial  and in smooth muscle cells (this study). However, the link between CFTR-mediated ion transport and the lung physiology has been the subject of intense debate and remains poorly understood. The role of the airway epithelium in modifying the contractility of the underlying smooth muscle has been suggested but is not yet fully demonstrated. For example, it has been suggested that the primary function of the epithelium is to provide a barrier of protection between the airway smooth muscle and inhaled irritants . Other studies have demonstrated that the epithelium can be an active source of mediators that relax constricted airways [26–28]. Fortner et al.  tested the hypothesis that the epithelium-dependent relaxation to agonists, like substance P and ATP, depends on the activity of chloride channels. They have shown a possible role for chloride pathways in the modulation of airway smooth muscle function using various chloride channel inhibitors. This work has also demonstrated that the relaxation to substance P and ATP persisted in the tracheas from Cftr -/- mice, and that the magnitude of the relaxation was not significantly different from that in the wild-type animals. This indicated that CFTR function is not required for airways relaxation to substance P and ATP . However, another study demonstrated that tracheas from CF mice have impaired relaxation in response to electrical field stimulation . This effect appears to be related to the lack of NO produced by CF respiratory epithelium and is readily reversible with exogenous NO or L-arginine . This observation is consistent with other findings showing decreased exhaled NO in patients with CF [30–32] and a reduction in NOS expression in CF murine and human airway epithelial cells .
Recent progress into the pharmacology of chloride channels provided interesting new tools to study the contribution of these transport proteins into organ physiology. We took advantage of the specific CFTR inhibitor CFTRinh-172  to monitor the muscular reactivity of isolated rat tracheal rings. Using this agent we found two complementary effects. First, it fully inhibits the iodide efflux stimulated by forskolin/genistein or MPB compounds, indicating that CFTR is the major ionic channel responsible for the cAMP-regulated Cl- transport in TSMC. Second, we found concentration-dependent inhibition by CFTRinh-172 of the bronchodilation induced by the CFTR activators MPB after muscarinic stimulation. This pharmacological evidence is in favour of an unexpected role of CFTR in bronchodilation. It is well known that airway smooth muscle relaxation is brought about predominantly by stimulation of adenyl cyclase-coupled receptors (e.g. β2-adrenoceptor) resulting in elevation of cell cyclic adenosine monophosphate content. Importantly, this signalling pathway is central in activating CFTR-mediated chloride transport in epithelial [7, 21], aortic , and airway smooth muscle cells. Taken together these results illuminate a direct implication for CFTR in the bronchodilation of the rat trachea.
In disorders of the conducting airways like asthma, COPD and CF, understanding the molecular mechanisms controlling the contractile state of the airway smooth muscle cell may generate new therapeutic opportunities. In CF, chronic endobronchial infection is a primary feature of the pulmonary disease. In addition, defective function of CFTR in airway epithelial cells and submucosal glands results in chronic involvement of the respiratory tract, manifested by progressive airway obstruction that begins early in life [7, 36]. Asthma pathogenesis is characterized by progressive airway wall remodelling that includes, in part, local inflammation and fibrosis as well as increased airway smooth muscle mass . Recently, Hays et al.  demonstrated structural changes to airway smooth muscle in CF. They shown increased smooth muscle content of the airway in subjects with CF compared to healthy controls. This increase is due to smooth muscle cell hyperplasia without hypertrophy . These findings imply that smooth muscle cell proliferation is a characteristic of airway remodelling in CF . Also, in the lungs of Cftr null mice, an alteration in airway neuroendocrine cell and neural components has been proposed . It is characterized by a decreased density of airway smooth muscle innervation, mass and neuromuscular junctions . These observations could suggest that CFTR plays a role in the development of pulmonary neuroendocrine cell system, lung innervation and airway smooth muscle. Although further studies will be required, these numerous informations, together with our finding of CFTR expression in airway smooth muscle, suggest that CFTR in the airways may have complex functions depending on the cell type in which it is functional as a chloride channel. Nevertheless, with greater understanding of the molecular mechanisms leading to the control of bronchodilation and the identification of novel bronchodilators(e.g. potent CFTR activators) we are likely to be able to develop new therapeutics for individuals with airway disease.
This work was supported by Vaincre La Mucoviscidose (VLM) and Caroline Norez is supported by a studentship from VLM. Patricia Melin is supported by a studentship from the Conseil Régional de Poitou-Charentes.
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