Background: Surfactant proteins are produced predominantly by alveolar type II (ATII) cells, and the expression of these proteins can be altered by cytokines and growth factors. Th1/Th2 cytokine imbalance is suggested to be important in the pathogenesis of several adult lung diseases. Recently, we developed a culture system for maintaining differentiated adult human ATII cells. Therefore, we sought to determine the effects of IL-13 and IFN-γ on the expression of surfactant proteins in adult human ATII cells in vitro. Additional studies were done with rat ATII cells.Methods: Adult human ATII cells were isolated from deidentified organ donors whose lungs were not suitable for transplantation and donated for medical research. The cells were cultured on a mixture of Matrigel and rat-tail collagen for 8 d with differentiation factors and human recombinant IL-13 or IFN-γ.Results: IL-13 reduced the mRNA and protein levels of surfactant protein (SP)-C, whereas IFN-γ increased the mRNA level of SP-C and proSP-C protein but not mature SP-C. Neither cytokine changed the mRNA level of SP-B but IFN-γ slightly decreased mature SP-B. IFN-γ reduced the level of the active form of cathepsin H. IL-13 also reduced the mRNA and protein levels of SP-D, whereas IFN-γ increased both mRNA and protein levels of SP-D. IL-13 did not alter SP-A, but IFN-γ slightly increased the mRNA levels of SP-A.Conclusions: We demonstrated that IL-13 and IFN-γ altered the expression of surfactant proteins in human adult ATII cells in vitro. IL-13 decreased SP-C and SP-D in human ATII cells, whereas IFN-γ had the opposite effect. The protein levels of mature SP-B were decreased by IFN-γ treatment, likely due to the reduction in active form cathpesin H. Similarly, the active form of cathepsin H was relatively insufficient to fully process proSP-C as IFN-γ increased the mRNA levels for SP-C and proSP-C protein, but there was no increase in mature SP-C. These observations suggest that in disease states with an overexpression of IL-13, there would be some deficiency in mature SP-C and SP-D. In disease states with an excess of IFN-γ or therapy with IFN-γ, these data suggest that there might be incomplete processing of SP-B and SP-C.
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