Introduction: Asthma is the most common chronic inflammatory disease of the airways. The airway epithelium is a key driver of the disease, and numerous studies have established genome-wide differences in mRNA expression between health and asthma. However, the underlying molecular mechanisms for such differences remain poorly understood. The human TTP family is comprised of ZFP36, ZFP36L1 and ZFP36L2, and has essential roles in immune regulation by determining the stability and translation of myriad mRNAs encoding for inflammatory mediators. We investigated the expression and possible role of the tristetraprolin (TTP) family of RNA binding proteins (RBPs), poorly understood in asthma. 

Methods: We analysed the levels of ZFP36, ZFP36L1 and ZFP36L2 mRNA in several publicly available asthma datasets, including single cell RNA-sequencing. We also interrogated the expression of known targets of these RBPs in asthma. We assessed the lung mRNA expression and cellular localization of Zfp36l1 and Zfp36l2 in precision cut lung slices in murine asthma models. Finally, we determined the expression in airway epithelium of ZFP36L1 and ZFP36L2 in human bronchial biopsies and performed rescue experiments in primary bronchial epithelium from patients with severe asthma. 

Results: We found ZFP36L1 and ZFP36L2 mRNA levels significantly downregulated in the airway epithelium of patients with very severe asthma in different cohorts (5 healthy vs. 8 severe asthma; 36 moderate asthma vs. 37 severe asthma on inhaled steroids vs. 26 severe asthma on oral corticoids). Integrating several datasets allowed us to infer that mRNAs potentially targeted by these RBPs are increased in severe asthma. Zfp36l1 was downregulated in the lung of a mouse model of asthma, and immunostaining of ex vivo lung slices with a dual antibody demonstrated that Zfp36l1/l2 nuclear localization was increased in the airway epithelium of an acute asthma mouse model, which was further enhanced in a chronic model. Immunostaining of human bronchial biopsies showed that airway epithelial cell staining of ZFP36L1 was decreased in severe asthma as compared with mild, while ZFP36L2 was upregulated. Restoring the levels of ZFP36L1 and ZFP36L2 in primary bronchial epithelial cells from patients with severe asthma decreased the mRNA expression of IL6, IL8 and CSF2

Discussion: We propose that the dysregulation of ZFP36L1/L2 levels as well as their subcellular mislocalization contributes to changes in mRNA expression and cytoplasmic fate in asthma.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1241008
JournalFrontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology
Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2023


  • airway and lung cell biology
  • asthma
  • post-transcriptional control
  • RNA binding protein
  • tristetraprolin
  • ZFP36L1
  • ZFP36L2


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