American Journal of Respiratory Medicine

, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp 185–193

Biology and Therapeutic Potential of the Interleukin-4/Interleukin-13 Signaling Pathway in Asthma

Leading Article


The future management of patients with allergic asthma is poised to change in the coming one to two decades. This prediction is based on fundamental new insights into the pathogenesis of disease, gained through the study of both humans and experimental models of asthma. These studies have revealed that allergic asthma is an immune-mediated disease which, despite the redundancy characteristic of all immune responses, may be induced through a single dominant signaling cascade called the interleukin (IL)-4/IL-13 signaling pathway. In addition to the cytokine IL-4, this pathway includes IL-13, the cytokine receptor subunit IL-4 receptor α (IL-4Rα), Janus-associated tyrosine kinases and the transcription factor, signal transducer and activator of transcription 6. The IL-4 signaling pathway controls the most important cellular developmental (afferent) events that underlie asthma. These include T helper (Th) type 2 cell activation, B cell activation and immunoglobulin (Ig) E secretion, mast cell development, and effector (efferent) events related exclusively to immune effects on the lung such as goblet cell metaplasia and airway hyperresponsiveness. Any of the IL-4 signaling molecules are potentially amenable to pharmacological intervention, but a detailed understanding of the entire pathway is required to appreciate their actual potential for drug development. For example, neutralization strategies that target only IL-4 are unlikely to succeed because they leave IL-13 free to continue the signaling cascade. In contrast, neutralization of IL-4Rα may represent a more feasible strategy, as it should prevent signaling by both IL-4 and IL-13. The therapeutic potential of targeting intracytoplasmic tyrosine kinases has already been achieved with the use of small molecules, suggesting that this approach may be realistically adopted for the treatment of asthma. However, well designed asthma clinical trials are warranted to determine with certainty, the efficacy of therapies based on IL-4/IL-13 blockade.


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© Adis International Limited 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departments of Medicine and the Biology of Inflammation CenterBaylor College of MedicineHoustonUSA
  2. 2.Department of ImmunologyBaylor College of MedicineHoustonUSA
  3. 3.Medicine/Pulmonary SectionBaylor College of MedicineHoustonUSA

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