The Hexosamine Biosynthetic Pathway Links Innate Inflammation With Epithelial-Mesenchymal Plasticity in Airway Remodeling

Allan R. Brasier, Dianhua Qiao, Yingxin Zhao

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Disruption of the lower airway epithelial barrier plays a major role in the initiation and progression of chronic lung disease. Here, repetitive environmental insults produced by viral and allergens triggers metabolic adaptations, epithelial-mesenchymal plasticity (EMP) and airway remodeling. Epithelial plasticity disrupts epithelial barrier function, stimulates release of fibroblastic growth factors, and remodels the extracellular matrix (ECM). This review will focus on recent work demonstrating how the hexosamine biosynthetic pathway (HBP) links innate inflammation to airway remodeling. The HBP is a core metabolic pathway of the unfolded protein response (UPR) responsible for protein N-glycosylation, relief of proteotoxic stress and secretion of ECM modifiers. We will overview findings that the IκB kinase (IKK)-NFκB pathway directly activates expression of the SNAI-ZEB1 mesenchymal transcription factor module through regulation of the Bromodomain Containing Protein 4 (BRD4) chromatin modifier. BRD4 mediates transcriptional elongation of SNAI1-ZEB as well as enhancing chromatin accessibility and transcription of fibroblast growth factors, ECM and matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). In addition, recent exciting findings that IKK cross-talks with the UPR by controlling phosphorylation and nuclear translocation of the autoregulatory XBP1s transcription factor are presented. HBP is required for N glycosylation and secretion of ECM components that play an important signaling role in airway remodeling. This interplay between innate inflammation, metabolic reprogramming and lower airway plasticity expands a population of subepithelial myofibroblasts by secreting fibroblastic growth factors, producing changes in ECM tensile strength, and fibroblast stimulation by MMP binding. Through these actions on myofibroblasts, EMP in lower airway cells produces expansion of the lamina reticularis and promotes airway remodeling. In this manner, metabolic reprogramming by the HBP mediates environmental insult-induced inflammation with remodeling in chronic airway diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number808735
JournalFrontiers in Pharmacology
StatePublished - Dec 22 2021


  • EMT
  • epigenetics
  • fibrosis
  • hexosamine biosynthetic pathway (HBP)
  • innate inflammation
  • plasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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