Asthma and inflammatory airway diseases restrict airflow in the lung, compromising gas exchange and lung function. Inhaled corticosteroids (ICSs) can reduce inflammation, control symptoms, and improve lung function; however, a growing number of patients with severe asthma do not benefit from ICS. Using bronchial airway epithelial brushings from patients with severe asthma or primary human cells, we delineated a corticosteroid-driven fibroblast growth factor (FGF)–dependent inflammatory axis, with FGF-responsive fibroblasts promoting downstream granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) production, hyaluronan secretion, and neutrophilic inflammation. Allergen challenge studies in mice demonstrate that the ICS, fluticasone propionate, inhibited type 2–driven eosinophilia but induced a concomitant increase in FGFs, G-CSF, hyaluronan, and neutrophil infiltration. We developed a model of steroid-induced neutrophilic inflammation mediated, in part, by induction of an FGF-dependent epithelial-mesenchymal axis, which may explain why some individuals do not benefit from ICS. In further proof-of-concept experiments, we found that combination therapy with pan-FGF receptor inhibitors and corticosteroids prevented both eosinophilic and steroid-induced neutrophilic inflammation.
Together, these results establish FGFs as therapeutic targets for severe asthma patients who do not benefit from ICS.