Selective inhibition by simvastatin of IRF3 phosphorylation and TSLP production in dsRNA-challenged bronchial epithelial cells from COPD donors



Dr Lena Uller, Department of Experimental Medical Science, Division of Respiratory Immunopharmacology, BMC D12, Lund University, 221 84 Lund, Sweden. E-mail:


Background and Purpose

Statin treatment may ameliorate viral infection-induced exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which exhibit Th2-type bronchial inflammation. Thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP), a hub cytokine switching on Th2 inflammation, is overproduced in viral and dsRNA-stimulated bronchial epithelial cells from COPD donors. Hence, TSLP may be causally involved in exacerbations. This study tests the hypothesis that simvastatin inhibits dsRNA-induced TSLP.

Experimental Approach

Epithelial cells, obtained by bronchoscopy from COPD (n = 7) and smoker control (n = 8) donors, were grown and stimulated with a viral infection and danger signal surrogate, dsRNA (10 μg·mL−1). Cells were treated with simvastatin (0.2–5 μg·mL−1), with or without mevalonate (13–26 μg·mL−1), or dexamethasone (1 μg·mL−1) before dsRNA. Cytokine expression and production, and transcription factor (IRF3 and NF-κB) activation were determined.

Key Results

dsRNA induced TSLP, TNF-α, CXCL8 and IFN-β. TSLP was overproduced in dsRNA-exposed COPD cells compared with control. Simvastatin, but not dexamethasone, concentration-dependently inhibited dsRNA-induced TSLP. Unexpectedly, simvastatin acted independently of mevalonate and did not affect dsRNA-induced NF-κB activation nor did it reduce production of TNF-α and CXCL8. Instead, simvastatin inhibited dsRNA-induced IRF3 phosphorylation and generation of IFN-β.

Conclusions and Implications

Independent of mevalonate and NF-κB, previously acknowledged anti-inflammatory mechanisms of pleiotropic statins, simvastatin selectively inhibited dsRNA-induced IRF3 activation and production of TSLP and IFN-β in COPD epithelium. These data provide novel insight into epithelial generation of TSLP and suggest paths to be exploited in drug discovery aimed at inhibiting TSLP-induced pulmonary immunopathology.