Semaphorins and Their Roles in Airway Biology: Potential as Therapeutic Targets

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Semaphorins are a large family of proteins originally identified as axon guidance cues that play a crucial role in neural development. They are also ubiquitously expressed beyond the nervous system and contribute to regulation of essential cell functions, such as cell migration, proliferation, and adhesion. Binding of semaphorins to their receptors, including plexins and neuropilins, triggers diverse signaling pathways, which are involved in the pathogenesis of various diseases, from cancer to autoimmune and allergic disorders. Despite emerging evidence suggestive of nonredundant roles of semaphorins in cellular and molecular mechanisms of the airway biology, their precise expression and function have not been fully addressed. Here, we first provide an overview about the semaphorin family, their receptors, signaling pathways, and their cellular functions. Then, we highlight the novel findings on the role of semaphorins in airway biology under developmental, homeostatic, and pathological conditions. In particular, we discuss the dual roles of semaphorins in respiratory disorders where they can up- or downregulate processes underlying the pathophysiology of the airway diseases. Next, our recent findings on the expression and function of semaphorin 3E in allergic asthma are further emphasized, and its potential mechanism of action in allergic airway inflammation and remodeling is discussed. Finally, we raise some unanswered questions aiming to develop future research directions.

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