Hypoxia contributes to the exaggerated yet ineffective airway inflammation that fails to oppose infections in cystic fibrosis (CF). However, the potential for impairment of essential immune functions by HIF-1 alpha (hypoxia-inducible factor 1 alpha) inhibition demands a better comprehension of downstream hypoxia-dependent pathways that are amenable for manipulation. We assessed here whether hypoxia may interfere with the activity of AhR (aryl hydrocarbon receptor), a versatile environmental sensor highly expressed in the lungs, where it plays a homeostatic role. We used murine models of Aspergillus fumigatus infection in vivo and human cells in vitro to define the functional role of AhR in CF, evaluate the impact of hypoxia on AhR expression and activity, and assess whether AhR agonism may antagonize hypoxia-driven inflammation. We demonstrated that there is an important interferential cross-talk between the AhR and HIF-1 alpha signaling pathways in murine and human CF, in that HIF-1 alpha induction squelched the normal AhR response through an impaired formation of the AhR:ARNT (aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator)/HIF-1 beta heterodimer. However, functional studies and analysis of the AhR genetic variability in patients with CF proved that AhR agonism could prevent hypoxia-driven inflammation, restore immune homeostasis, and improve lung function. This study emphasizes the contribution of environmental factors, such as infections, in CF disease progression and suggests the exploitation of hypoxia:xenobiotic receptor cross-talk for antiinflammatory therapy in CF.
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