Ozone Exposure Alters Serotonin and Serotonin Receptor Expression in the Developing Lung

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Ozone, a pervasive environmental pollutant, adversely affects functional lung growth in children. Animal studies demonstrate that altered lung development is associated with modified signaling within the airway epithelial mesenchymal trophic unit, including mediators that can change nerve growth. We hypothesized that ozone exposure alters the normal pattern of serotonin, its transporter (5-HTT), and two key receptors (5-HT2A and 5-HT4), a pathway involved in postnatal airway neural, epithelial, and immune processes. We exposed monkeys to acute or episodic ozone during the first 2 or 6 months of life. There were three exposure groups/age: (1) filtered air, (2) acute ozone challenge, and (3) episodic ozone + acute ozone challenge. Lungs were prepared for compartment-specific qRT-PCR, immunohistochemistry, and stereology. Airway epithelial serotonin immunopositive staining increased in all exposure groups with the most prominent in 2-month midlevel and 6-month distal airways. Gene expression of 5-HTT, 5-HT2AR, and 5-HT4R increased in an age-dependent manner. Overall expression was greater in distal compared with midlevel airways. Ozone exposure disrupted both 5-HT2AR and 5-HT4R protein expression in airways and enhanced immunopositive staining for 5-HT2AR (2 months) and 5-HT4R (6 months) on smooth muscle. Ozone exposure increases serotonin in airway epithelium regardless of airway level, age, and exposure history and changes the spatial pattern of serotonin receptor protein (5-HT2A and 5-HT4) and 5-HTT gene expression depending on compartment, age, and exposure history. Understanding how serotonin modulates components of reversible airway obstruction exacerbated by ozone exposure sets the foundation for developing clinically relevant therapies for airway disease.

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