Noncanonical role for Ku70/80 in the prevention of allergic airway inflammation via maintenance of airway epithelial cell organelle homeostasis

Rakhshinda Rehman, Vijay Elakkya Vijayakumar, Ashish Jaiswal, X. Vaibhav Jain, Shravani Mukherjee, X. Shamsudheen Karuthedath Vellarikkal, Paul B. Dieffenbach, Laura E. Fredenburgh, X. Y.S. Prakash, Balaram Ghosh, Anurag Agrawal, Ulaganathan Mabalirajan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Airway epithelial homeostasis is under constant threat due to continuous exposure to the external environment, and abnormally robust sensitivity to external stimuli is critical to the development of airway diseases, including asthma. Ku is a key nonhomologous end-joining DNA repair protein with diverse cellular functions such as VDJ recombination and telomere length maintenance. Here, we show a novel function of Ku in alleviating features of allergic airway inflammation via the regulation of mitochondrial and endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress. We first determined that airway epithelial cells derived from both asthmatic lungs and murine asthma models demonstrate increased expression of 8-hydroxy-deoxyguanosine (8-OHdG), a marker of oxidative DNA damage. Ku protein expression was dramatically reduced in the bronchial epithelium of patients with asthma as well as in human bronchial epithelial cells exposed to oxidative stress. Knockdown of Ku70 or Ku80 in naïve mice elicited mitochondrial collapse or ER stress, leading to bronchial epithelial cell apoptosis and spontaneous development of asthma-like features, including airway hyperresponsiveness, airway inflammation, and subepithelial fibrosis. These findings demonstrate an essential noncanonical role for Ku proteins in asthma pathogenesis, likely via maintenance of organelle homeostasis. This novel function of Ku proteins may also be important in other disease processes associated with organelle stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)L728-L741
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 6 2020


  • Airway epithelium
  • Asthma
  • Ku

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Cell Biology


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