The breakdown and release of hyaluronan (HA) from the extracellular matrix has been hypothesized to act as an endogenous signal of injury. To test this hypothesis, we generated mice that conditionally overexpressed human hyaluronidase 1 (HYAL1). Mice expressing HYAL1 in skin either during early development or by inducible transient expression exhibited extensive HA degradation, yet displayed no evidence of spontaneous inflammation. Further, HYAL1 expression activated migration and promoted loss of DCs from the skin. We subsequently determined that induction of HYAL1 expression prior to topical antigen application resulted in a lack of an antigenic response due to the depletion of DCs from the skin. In contrast, induction of HYAL1 expression concurrent with antigen exposure accelerated allergic sensitization. Administration of HA tetrasaccharides, before or simultaneously with antigen application, recapitulated phenotypes observed in HYAL1-expressing animals, suggesting that the generation of small HA fragments, rather than the loss of large HA molecules, promotes DC migration and subsequent modification of allergic responses. Furthermore, mice lacking TLR4 did not exhibit HA-associated phenotypes, indicating that TLR4 mediates these responses. This study provides direct evidence that HA breakdown controls the capacity of the skin to present antigen. These events may influence DC function in injury or disease and have potential to be exploited therapeutically for modification of allergic responses.
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