Bacterial infections after lung transplantation cause airway epithelial injury and are associated with an increased risk of developing bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome. The damaged epithelium is a source of alarmins that activate the innate immune system, yet their ability to activate fibroblasts in the development of bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome has not been evaluated. Two epithelial alarmins were measured longitudinally in bronchoalveolar lavages from lung transplant recipients who developed bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome and were compared to stable controls. In addition, conditioned media from human airway epithelial cells infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa was applied to lung fibroblasts and inflammatory responses were determined. Interleukin-1 alpha (IL-1α) was increased in bronchoalveolar lavage of lung transplant recipients growing P. aeruginosa (11.5 [5.4–21.8] vs. 2.8 [0.9–9.4] pg/mL, p < 0.01) and was significantly elevated within 3 months of developing bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome (8.3 [1.4–25.1] vs. 3.6 [0.6–17.1] pg/mL, p < 0.01), whereas high mobility group protein B1 remained unchanged. IL-1α positively correlated with elevated bronchoalveolar lavage IL-8 levels (r2 = 0.6095, p < 0.0001) and neutrophil percentage (r2 = 0.25, p = 0.01). Conditioned media from P. aeruginosa infected epithelial cells induced a potent pro-inflammatory phenotype in fibroblasts via an IL-1α/IL-1R-dependent signaling pathway. In conclusion, we propose that IL-1α may be a novel therapeutic target to limit Pseudomonas associated allograft injury after lung transplantation.
This study demonstrates that a Pseudomonas aeruginosa challenge of lung epithelial cells causes the release of IL-1α and the induction of an inflammatory phenotype in lung fibroblasts, and provides evidence of an association between infection with P. aeruginosa, IL-1α levels in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid, and the development of bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome following lung transplantation.