Essential role of smooth muscle Rac1 in severe asthma-associated airway remodelling.
Severe asthma is a chronic lung disease characterised by inflammation, airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR) and airway remodelling. The molecular mechanisms underlying uncontrolled airway smooth muscle cell (aSMC) proliferation involved in pulmonary remodelling are still largely unknown. Small G proteins of the Rho family (RhoA, Rac1 and Cdc42) are key regulators of smooth muscle functions and we recently demonstrated that Rac1 is activated in aSMC from allergic mice. The objective of this study was to assess the role of Rac1 in severe asthma-associated airway remodelling.Immunofluorescence analysis in human bronchial biopsies revealed an increased Rac1 activity in aSMC from patients with severe asthma compared with control subjects. Inhibition of Rac1 by EHT1864 showed that Rac1 signalling controlled human aSMC proliferation induced by mitogenic stimuli through the signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) signalling pathway. In vivo, specific deletion of Rac1 in SMC or pharmacological inhibition of Rac1 by nebulisation of NSC23766 prevented AHR and aSMC hyperplasia in a mouse model of severe asthma. Moreover, the Rac1 inhibitor prevented goblet cell hyperplasia and epithelial cell hypertrophy whereas treatment with corticosteroids had less effect. Nebulisation of NSC23766 also decreased eosinophil accumulation in the bronchoalveolar lavage of asthmatic mice.This study demonstrates that Rac1 is overactive in the airways of patients with severe asthma and is essential for aSMC proliferation. It also provides evidence that Rac1 is causally involved in AHR and airway remodelling. Rac1 may represent as an interesting target for treating both AHR and airway remodelling of patients with severe asthma.