Introduction: The role inflammasomes play in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is unclear. We hypothesised that the AIM2 inflammasome is activated in the airways of COPD patients, and in response to cigarette smoke. Methods: Lung tissue, bronchoscopy-derived alveolar macrophages and bronchial epithelial cells from COPD patients and healthy donors; lungs from cigarette smoke-exposed mice; and cigarette smoke extract-stimulated alveolar macrophages from healthy controls and HBEC30KT cell line were investigated. AIM2 inflammasome activation was assessed by multi-fluorescence quantitative confocal microscopy of speck foci positive for AIM2, inflammasome component ASC and cleaved IL-1β. Subcellular AIM2 localization was assessed by confocal microscopy, and immunoblot of fractionated cell lysates. Nuclear localization was supported by in-silico analysis of nuclear localization predicted scores of peptide sequences. Nuclear and cytoplasmic AIM2 was demonstrated by immunoblot in both cellular fractions from HBEC30KT cells. Results: Increased cytoplasmic AIM2 speck foci, colocalized with cleaved IL-1β, were demonstrated in COPD lungs (n = 9) vs. control (n = 5), showing significant positive correlations with GOLD stages. AIM2 nuclear-to-cytoplasmic redistribution was demonstrated in bronchiolar epithelium in cigarette-exposed mice and in HBEC30KT cells post 24 h stimulation with 5% cigarette smoke extract. Alveolar macrophages from 8 healthy non-smokers responded to cigarette smoke extract with an > 8-fold increase (p < 0.05) of cytoplasmic AIM2 and > 6-fold increase (p < 0.01) of colocalized cleaved IL-1β speck foci, which were also localized with ASC. Conclusion: The AIM2 inflammasome is activated in the airway of COPD patients, and in response to cigarette smoke exposure, associated with a nuclear to cytoplasmic shift in the distribution of AIM2.
- AIM2 inflammasome
- AIM2 protein nuclear localization
- Cigarette smoke