Background: Airway fibrosis is one of the pathological characteristics of severe asthma. Transforming growth factor (TGF)-β has been known to promote epithelial-mesenchymal transition formation and to play a role in the progression of tissue fibrosis. Cellular communication network factor 2 (CCN2) and fibronectin (FN) are well-known markers of EMT and fibrosis. However, whether AREG is involved in TGF-β-induced CCN2 and FN expression in human lung epithelial cells is unknown. Methods: AREG and FN were analyzed by immunofluorescence staining on ovalbumin-challenged mice. CCN2 and FN expression were evaluated in human lung epithelial (A459) cells following TGF or AREG treatment for the indicated times. Secreted AREG from A549 cells was detected by ELISA. Cell migration was observed by a wound healing assay. Chromatin immunoprecipitation was used to detect the c-Jun binding to the CCN2 promoter. Results: AREG and FN expression colocalized in lung tissues from mice with ovalbumin-induced asthma by immunofluorescence staining. Moreover, TGF-β caused the release of AREG from A549 cells into the medium. Smad3 siRNA down-regulated AREG expression. AREG also stimulated CCN2 and FN expression, JNK and c-Jun phosphorylation, and cell migration in A549 cells. AREG small interfering (si) RNA inhibited TGF-β-induced expression of CCN2, FN, and cell migration. Furthermore, AREG-induced CCN2 and FN expression were inhibited by EGFR siRNA, a JNK inhibitor (SP600125), and an activator protein-1 (AP-1) inhibitor (curcumin). EGFR siRNA attenuated AREG-induced JNK and c-Jun phosphorylation. Moreover, SP600125 downregulated AREG-induced c-Jun phosphorylation. Conclusion: These results suggested that AREG mediates the TGF-β-induced EMT in human lung epithelial cells through EGFR/JNK/AP-1 activation. Understanding the role of AREG in the EMT could foster the development of therapeutic strategies for airway remodeling in severe asthma.
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