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Airway epithelial cells initiate the allergen response through transglutaminase 2 by inducing IL-33 expression and a subsequent Th2 response

Keunhee Oh123, Myung Won Seo1, Ga Young Lee1, Ok-Jin Byoun1, Hye-Ryun Kang4, Sang-Heon Cho4 and Dong-Sup Lee1235*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biomedical Sciences, Laboratory of Immunology and Cancer Biology, Seoul, Korea

2 Interdisciplinary Program of Cancer Biology, Cancer Research Institute, Seoul, Korea

3 Transplantation Research Institute, Seoul, Korea

4 Department of Internal Medicine, Seoul National University College of Medicine, Seoul, Korea

5 Seoul National University College of Medicine, 103 Daehak-ro Jongno-gu, Seoul, Korea

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Respiratory Research 2013, 14:35  doi:10.1186/1465-9921-14-35

Published: 13 March 2013



Transglutaminase 2 (TG2) is a post-translational protein-modifying enzyme that catalyzes the transamidation reaction, producing crosslinked or polyaminated proteins. Increased TG2 expression and activity have been reported in various inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammation-associated pulmonary fibrosis, and autoimmune encephalitis. In particular, TG2 from epithelial cells is important during the initial inflammatory response in the lung. In this study, we evaluated the role of TG2 in the pathogenesis of allergic asthma, particularly whether TG2 affects initial activation signaling leading to Th2 differentiation against antigens.


We induced allergic asthma by ovalbumin sensitization and intranasal challenge in wild-type (WT) BALB/c and TG2-deficient mice. Broncheoalveolar lavage fluid cells and intracellular cytokine production were analyzed by flow cytometry. Interleukin (IL)-33 and TG2 expression in lung epithelial cells was detected by confocal microscopy.


Airway responsiveness was attenuated in TG2-deficient mice compared to that in the WT control. In addition, recruitment of eosinophils and Th2 and Th17 differentiation decreased in TG2-deficient mice. Treatment with cysteamine, a transglutaminase inhibitor, also reduced airway hypersensitivity, inflammatory cell recruitment, and T helper cell differentiation. TG2-deficient mice showed reduced IL-33 expression following induction of allergic asthma compared to those in the WT control.


We found that pulmonary epithelial cells damaged by allergens triggered TG2-mediated IL-33 expression leading to type 2 responses by recruiting both innate and adaptive arms of the immune system.

Epithelium; IL-33; Transglutaminase 2; Asthma; Animal models