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Macrophage migration inhibitory factor promotes glucocorticoid resistance of neutrophilic inflammation in a murine model of severe asthma


Background Severe neutrophilic asthma is resistant to treatment with glucocorticoids. The immunomodulatory protein macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) promotes neutrophil recruitment to the lung and antagonises responses to glucocorticoids. We hypothesised that MIF promotes glucocorticoid resistance of neutrophilic inflammation in severe asthma.

Methods We examined whether sputum MIF protein correlated with clinical and molecular characteristics of severe neutrophilic asthma in the Unbiased Biomarkers for the Prediction of Respiratory Disease Outcomes (U-BIOPRED) cohort. We also investigated whether MIF regulates neutrophilic inflammation and glucocorticoid responsiveness in a murine model of severe asthma in vivo.

Results MIF protein levels positively correlated with the number of exacerbations in the previous year, sputum neutrophils and oral corticosteroid use across all U-BIOPRED subjects. Further analysis of MIF protein expression according to U-BIOPRED-defined transcriptomic-associated clusters (TACs) revealed increased MIF protein and a corresponding decrease in annexin-A1 protein in TAC2, which is most closely associated with airway neutrophilia and NLRP3 inflammasome activation. In a murine model of severe asthma, treatment with the MIF antagonist ISO-1 significantly inhibited neutrophilic inflammation and increased glucocorticoid responsiveness. Coimmunoprecipitation studies using lung tissue lysates demonstrated that MIF directly interacts with and cleaves annexin-A1, potentially reducing its biological activity.

Conclusion Our data suggest that MIF promotes glucocorticoid-resistance of neutrophilic inflammation by reducing the biological activity of annexin-A1, a potent glucocorticoid-regulated protein that inhibits neutrophil accumulation at sites of inflammation. This represents a previously unrecognised role for MIF in the regulation of inflammation and points to MIF as a potential therapeutic target for the management of severe neutrophilic asthma.

  • asthma
  • asthma mechanisms
  • cytokine biology

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

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