β-adrenergic receptors (βARs) relax airway smooth muscle and bronchodilate, but chronic β-agonist treatment in asthma causes increased sensitivity to airway constriction (hyperreactivity) and is associated with exacerbations. This paradox was explored using mice with ablated βAR genes (βAR–/–) and transgenic mice overexpressing airway smooth muscle β2AR (β2AR-OE) representing two extremes: absence and persistent activity of airway βAR. Unexpectedly, βAR–/– mice, lacking these bronchodilating receptors, had markedly decreased bronchoconstrictive responses to methacholine and other Gq-coupled receptor agonists. In contrast, β2AR-OE mice had enhanced constrictive responses. Contraction to permeabilization with β-escin was unaltered by gene ablation or overexpression. Inositol phosphate accumulation by Gq-coupled M3-muscarinic, thromboxane-A2, and 5-HT2 receptors was desensitized in airway smooth muscle cells from βAR–/– mice and sensitized in cells from β2AR-OE mice. Thus, βAR antithetically regulates constrictive signals, affecting bronchomotor tone/reactivity by additional means other than direct dilatation. Studies of signaling elements in these pathways revealed the nodal point of this cross talk as phospholipase C-β1, whose expression was altered by βAR in a direction and magnitude consistent with the physiologic and cellular responses. These results establish a mechanism of the β-agonist paradox and identify a potential asthma modifier gene (phospholipase C-β1), which may also be a therapeutic target in asthma when chronic β-agonists are required.


Dennis W. McGraw, Khalid F. Almoosa, Richard J. Paul, Brian K. Kobilka, Stephen B. Liggett


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