New studies of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are revealing the key role of airway epithelial cells and innate immune cells in the initiation, exacerbation, and progression of airway disease. An emerging scheme focuses on expansion of airway progenitor epithelial cells that feed forward for a type 2 immune response and consequent IL-13-driven mucus production that is linked to the morbidity and mortality of COPD. Analysis of human airway progenitor epithelial cells and airway tissue shows that IL-13 signaling to MUC5AC mucin gene expression relies on specific activation of mitogen-activated protein kinase 13, providing a druggable target for attenuating mucus production in the setting of viral infection and other inhaled stimuli of airway inflammation. Moreover, structure-based drug design is delivering highly potent, selective, and nontoxic small-molecule kinase inhibitors of mitogen-activated protein kinase 13 that offer a therapeutic strategy to downregulate excess mucus production to a physiological level and thereby achieve a precision medicine solution to the major health care problem of COPD and related airway diseases.
- Airway disease
- Airway epithelial cells
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Drug discovery
- Innate immune cells