Dichotomous Role of Tumor Necrosis Factor in Pulmonary Barrier Function and Alveolar Fluid Clearance

Rudolf Lucas, Yalda Hadizamani, Perenlei Enkhbaatar, Gabor Csanyi, Robert W. Caldwell, Harald Hundsberger, Supriya Sridhar, Alice Ann Lever, Martina Hudel, Dipankar Ash, Masuko Ushio-Fukai, Tohru Fukai, Trinad Chakraborty, Alexander Verin, Douglas C. Eaton, Maritza Romero, Jürg Hamacher

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Alveolar-capillary leak is a hallmark of the acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a potentially lethal complication of severe sepsis, trauma and pneumonia, including COVID-19. Apart from barrier dysfunction, ARDS is characterized by hyper-inflammation and impaired alveolar fluid clearance (AFC), which foster the development of pulmonary permeability edema and hamper gas exchange. Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) is an evolutionarily conserved pleiotropic cytokine, involved in host immune defense against pathogens and cancer. TNF exists in both membrane-bound and soluble form and its mainly -but not exclusively- pro-inflammatory and cytolytic actions are mediated by partially overlapping TNFR1 and TNFR2 binding sites situated at the interface between neighboring subunits in the homo-trimer. Whereas TNFR1 signaling can mediate hyper-inflammation and impaired barrier function and AFC in the lungs, ligand stimulation of TNFR2 can protect from ventilation-induced lung injury. Spatially distinct from the TNFR binding sites, TNF harbors within its structure a lectin-like domain that rather protects lung function in ARDS. The lectin-like domain of TNF -mimicked by the 17 residue TIP peptide- represents a physiological mediator of alveolar-capillary barrier protection. and increases AFC in both hydrostatic and permeability pulmonary edema animal models. The TIP peptide directly activates the epithelial sodium channel (ENaC) -a key mediator of fluid and blood pressure control- upon binding to its α subunit, which is also a part of the non-selective cation channel (NSC). Activity of the lectin-like domain of TNF is preserved in complexes between TNF and its soluble TNFRs and can be physiologically relevant in pneumonia. Antibody- and soluble TNFR-based therapeutic strategies show considerable success in diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease, but their chronic use can increase susceptibility to infection. Since the lectin-like domain of TNF does not interfere with TNF’s anti-bacterial actions, while exerting protective actions in the alveolar-capillary compartments, it is currently evaluated in clinical trials in ARDS and COVID-19. A more comprehensive knowledge of the precise role of the TNFR binding sites versus the lectin-like domain of TNF in lung injury, tissue hypoxia, repair and remodeling may foster the development of novel therapeutics for ARDS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number793251
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
StatePublished - Feb 21 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • COVID-19
  • TNF lectin-like domain
  • TNF receptor
  • acute respiratory distress syndrome
  • epithelial sodium channel

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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