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Helper T effector cytokines implicated in asthma modulate the contractility of human airway smooth muscle (HASM) cells. We have reported recently that a profibrotic cytokine, transforming growth factor (TGF)-β1, induces HASM cell shortening and airway hyperresponsiveness. Here, we assessed whether TGF-β1 affects the ability of HASM cells to relax in response to β2-agonists, a mainstay treatment for airway hyperresponsiveness in asthma. Overnight TGF-β1 treatment significantly impaired isoproterenol (ISO)-induced relaxation of carbachol-stimulated, isolated HASM cells. This single-cell mechanical hyporesponsiveness to ISO was corroborated by sustained increases in myosin light chain phosphorylation. In TGF-β1–treated HASM cells, ISO evoked markedly lower levels of intracellular cAMP. These attenuated cAMP levels were, in turn, restored with pharmacological and siRNA inhibition of phosphodiesterase 4 and Smad3, respectively. Most strikingly, TGF-β1 selectively induced phosphodiesterase 4D gene expression in HASM cells in a Smad2/3-dependent manner. Together, these data suggest that TGF-β1 decreases HASM cell β2-agonist relaxation responses by modulating intracellular cAMP levels via a Smad2/3-dependent mechanism. Our findings further define the mechanisms underlying β2-agonist hyporesponsiveness in asthma, and suggest TGF-β1 as a potential therapeutic target to decrease asthma exacerbations in severe and treatment-resistant asthma.


This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in American Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology, volume 61, issue 2, in 2019 following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version is available online at


American Thoracic Society



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