Modeling airway dysfunction in asthma using synthetic mucus biomaterials
As asthma worsens, occlusion of airways with mucus significantly contributes to airflow obstruction and reduced lung function. Recent evidence from clinical studies has shown mucus obtained from adults and children with asthma possesses altered mucin composition. However, how these changes alter the functional properties of the mucus gel is not yet fully understood. To study this, we have engineered a synthetic mucus biomaterial to closely mimic the properties of native mucus in health and disease. We demonstrate this model possesses comparable biophysical and transport properties to native mucus ex vivo collected from human subjects and in vitro isolated from human airway epithelial (HAE) tissue cultures. We found by systematically varying mucin composition that mucus gel viscoelasticity is enhanced when predominantly composed of mucin 5AC (MUC5AC), as is observed in asthma. As a result, asthma-like synthetic mucus gels are more slowly transported on the surface of HAE tissue cultures and at a similar rate to native mucus produced by HAE cultures stimulated with the type 2 cytokine IL-13, known to contribute to airway inflammation and MUC5AC hypersecretion in asthma. We also discovered the barrier function of asthma-like synthetic mucus towards influenza A virus was impaired as evidenced by the increased frequency of infection in MUC5AC-rich hydrogel coated HAE cultures. Together, this work establishes a biomaterial-based approach to understand airway dysfunction in asthma and related muco-obstructive lung diseases.