Archive for the ‘Pulmonary diseases’ Category

Molecular Pathogenesis of Progressive Lung Diseases

Author: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP



The lung and its airways are constantly exposed to the air we breath, its contaminants, microparticulates (asbestose), and incidental microorganisms, such as viruses. These are sources of acute and chronic pulmonary diseases. Just as the lung remodels in normal growth and development, the lung remodels following acute injuries, but in the case of chronic conditions, the remodeling capacity is stressed. The lung is potentially stressed even without exposure to external contaminants or viruses. This stress is related to its normal function of gas exchange between oxygen and carbon dioxide across the alveolar wall. This involves a mechanism for tissue repair initiated by signaling pathways that are triggered in response to oxidative stress that result in a process called the unfolded protein response (UPR). The UPR does not necessarily lead to tissue damage. Damage only occurs when there is sustained stress that exceeds the ability of the tissue to repair the cellular framework. Here, we shall visit the underlying repair process that may be undermined in different lung diseases, all of which involve the inflammatory response, but not necessarily under the same course and conditions.



The lung develops as an outpouching of the foregut and consists of the trachea and bronchi, and the alveoli. Air exchange occurs in the alveoli. In utero, the lungs are filled with fluid, and breathing occurs at the time of birth. When birth is premature, the surfactant produced by the alveolar lining cells that is necessary for passage of air into and expand the lungs may be insufficient, leading to alveolar collapse. Another problem may be neonatal hypertension. The discussion that follows will only deal with a common metabolic condition that underlies the conditions that underlie the development of chronic pulmonary diseases in the neonate and the adult.

The main feature of the alveoli is that they consist of a single layer of epithelium lining the airspaces beneath which lies a capillary, ideally suited for the exchange of O2 and CO2. There is a basement membrane between the epithelial cells and the capillaries. Two types of alveolar epithelial cells cover 90% of the airway surface. The alveolar type I epithelial cells (ATI), whose main function is gas interchange, are the larger flattened phenotype. Alveolar type II epithelial cells (ATII) are the most abundant epithelial cell type functioning to maintain the alveolar space by secretion of several types of surfactant proteins and other ECM components. There is also a basement membrane beneath the epithelium to be considered. Secretory Clara and goblet cells, ciliated, basal and neuroendocrine cells are also found in the tracheo-bronchial pseudostratified epithelium. Ciliated and secretory cells are involved in clearing the airway passages from microorganisms, air pollutants and other inhaled pathogens. Mucous and goblet cells secrete mucous into the apical surface of the epithelium, which traps foreign particles. These are then cleared out by the action of ciliated cells.

In cellular senescence there are secretory phenotypes that produce pro-inflammatory and pro-fibrotic factors. In the case of subepithelial fibrosis immune cells, like macrophages and neutrophils as well as activated myofibroblasts populate the subcellular matrix and release of pro-fibrotic transforming growth factor beta and continuous deposition of ECM stiffens the basement membrane. This is accompanied by interstitial fibrosis (1).

The remainder of this review will consider how the lung reacts to stresses that may be functionally inherent, genetic mediated, environmental, or virus. This requires an understanding of the UPR, a common mechanism for cellular repair in response to oxidative and nitrosative stress, which is the common mechanism for protecting the alveolar cell, but becomes pathogenic when the stress exceeds the clearance mechanism.


The unfolded protein response (UPR)

The mitochondria (mi) and the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) play key roles in the response to stress, and the mitochondria are also involved by way of signaling mechanisms. We shall begin by considering the ER role (ERUPR). The ER are tubular structures that have smooth and rough portions. The rough ER are essential for translation of the genetic code into an amino acid sequence. The smooth ER is involved in lipid synthesis, and other processes. Just as tRNAs are important building blocks for protein, microRNAs come into the picture as well. The microRNAs have a regulatory role in that they are noncoding, but they repress gene expression and thereby, protein homeostasis (protostasis) under the influence of ERUPR signaling. They have their expression under the influence of UPR signaling when there is oxidative/nitrosative stress (2).

The ER-induced ERUPR is mediated by three major ER-resident transmembrane sensors named PKR-like endoplasmic reticulum kinase (PERK), activating transcription factor 6 (ATF6a and isoforms), and inositol requiring enzyme 1 (IRE1a and isoforms)(2-4). BiP is an abundant ER chaperone that dissociates from these three sensors, leading to their activation of the ER stress response.

The first step is activation of IRE1a, which dimerizes, forms oligomers, and autophosphorylates. This results in a conformational change that activates RNAse. IRE1a RNAse excises a 26-nucleotide intron of the mRNA encoding the transcription factor X-box binding protein-1 (XBP1). This in turn is ligated resulting in a coding reading phase frame shift in the mRNA and leads to the expression of a more stable and active transcription factor, termed XBP1 spliced (XBP1s). XBP1s trans-activates target genes, which depends on the context of tissue and the stress stimuli. The targets of XBP1s are genes involved in protein folding, endoplasmic reticulum-associated degradation (ERAD), protein translocation to the ER, and protein secretion. IRE1a also signals through the assembly of many adapter proteins and regulators, referred to as the UPRosome, as well as control gene expression through ER stress-dependent XBP1 mRNA splicing (2-5)).

The ER is the site where protein is synthesis and maturation occurs. It is also where the transportation and release of correctly folded proteins together with the Golgi apparatus. ER dysfunction has been viewed in the context of adaptation to protein processing and folding in the ER lumen (3).

Activation of the UPR results in accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in cells devoid of PERK. ATF4 and PERK knockout cells require amino acid and cysteine supplementation. This is thought to be to replenish amino acids lost during secretion and to increase glutathione levels. ATF4 is essential for regulating amino acid metabolism and oxidative stress response. (In addition, PERK knockout cells cannot activate eIF2a dependent translational up-regulation of ATF4, and ATF4-/- cells lack ATF4 protein. ATF4 induces the transcription of genes involved in amino acid import, glutathione biosynthesis and resistance to oxidative stress (3).

NFD-kB is released from its inhibitor IkB as a result of PERK-mediated attenuation of translation. A variety of different genes involved in inflammatory pathways are expressed, such as those encoding the cytokines IL-1 and TNF-a, as NF-kB moves to the nucleus and switches on. Activated IRE1a recruits tumor necrosis factor-a (TNF-a)-receptor-associated factor 2 (TRAF2) in the second branch of the UPR. TRAF2 then activates JNK and IkB kinase (IKK). These are inflammatory kinases that phosphorylate and activate downstream mediators of inflammation. The third branch of the UPR, the ATF6 pathway, also activates NF-kB. The crosstalk between the three branches is evidenced by the spliced X-box binding protein 1 (XBP1s) and ATF4 both inducing production of the cytokines IL-8, IL-6, and monocyte chemoattractant protein 1 (MCP1) by endothelial cells. XBP1s and IFN-b are both initiated in IFN-b production when ER stress is combined with activation of Toll-like receptor (TLR) signaling and in IFN-a production by dendritic cells. ER calcium stores are mediated in calcium-dependent inflammatory responses that produce IL-8. The XBP1s expand the capacity of the ER for protein folding and results in the assembly of the metainflammasome. This protein complex integrates pathogen and nutrient sensing with ER stress, inflammatory kinases, insulin action, and metabolic homeostasis. The eIF2a kinase PKR (double-stranded RNA-activated protein kinase) is a core component of the metaflammasome which interacts directly with several inflammatory kinases such as IKK and JNK, insulin receptor signaling components such as IRS1, and the translational machinery via eIF2a (4).

The conformational alteration of IRE1 via phosphorylation which exposes the RNAse that removes an intron from XBP1 mRNA generates of a protein that is a transcriptional regulator of genes involved in protein folding and degradation, both necessary mechanisms needed to restore ER homeostasis. GRP78 dissociation activates PERK, which in turn phosphorylates eIF2a, an inhibitor of new protein translation and activator of the transcription factor ATF4. The phosphorylation of PERK observed in primary aveolar epithelial cells comes with significant increase in the expression of ATF4 (5).

ER stress-dependent activation of UPR-mediated ER Ca2+ store expansion (via XBP-1 mRNA splicing) is induced by inflammation. This response is coupled to amplification of Ca2+-dependent inflammation and may be beneficial or adverse for the airways. This depends on whether airways are competent to clear or are obstructed. In normal airways (competent to clear), the airway epithelial ER Ca2+ store expansion provides a beneficial response, and reverses the expanded ER Ca2+ stores back to normal levels. However, the airway epithelial ER Ca2+ store expansion-mediated amplification of airway inflammation may be maladaptive for CF and COPD airways. This results in persistent airway epithelial ER Ca2+ store expansion that leads to chronic airway inflammation (3).

XBP1s launches a transcriptional program to produce chaperones (such as Grp78) and proteins involved in ER biogenesis, phospholipid synthesis, ER-associated protein degradation (ERAD), and secretion alone or in conjunction with ATF6a, which are key regulators of the transcriptional response programs.

There are five proteins that have sequence similarity with ATF6a and are anchored to the ER and in response to activation by specific stimuli. They undergo regulated intramembrane proteolysis in the Golgi and subsequent translocation to the nucleus. They all have been implicated in the ER stress response due to their ability to respond to traditional ER stressors. They activate known UPR targets, or show activity at UPR response elements.

Activation of the third arm of the UPR through PERK results in phosphorylation of eukaryotic translational initiation factor 2a (eIF2a) converting eIF2a to a competitor of eIF2b, which then results in reduced global protein synthesis. PERK is one of four protein kinases that can mediate eIF2a phosphorylation; the other three kinases are double stranded RNA-activated protein kinase (PKR), GCN2 general control non-derepressible kinase 2 (GCN2), and heme-regulated inhibitor kinase (HRI)(4).


Oxidative stress

Several oxidants give rise to reactive oxygen species (ROS) by inflammatory and epithelial cells within the lung as part of an inflammatory-immune response. These interfere with protein folding in the ER and the compensatory response is the ‘‘unfolded protein response’’ (UPR). Superoxide radicals (O2 •−) can either react with nitric oxide (NO) to form highly reactive peroxynitrite molecules (ONOO) or are rapidly converted into hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) under the influence of superoxide dismutase (SOD) by activation of NADPH oxidase 2 (Nox2) on macrophages, neutrophils and epithelium. The non-enzymatic production of damaging hydroxyl radical (OH) from H2O2 occurs in the presence of Fe2+. Glutathione peroxidases (Gpxs) and catalase catalyze H2O2 to formH2O and O2. The ROS O2•−, ONOO, H2O2 andOH trigger extensive inflammation, DNA damage, protein denaturation and lipid peroxidation. Lipid peroxidation products are 8-isoprostane, 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal (4-OH-2-nonenal) and malondialdehyde (MDA)], LTB4, carbon monoxide and myeloperoxidase (MPO)(6).


Mitochondrial phase of UPR (mtUPR)

Mitochondria have a role in regulating alveolar epithelial cell (AEC) programmed cell death (apoptosis), and they are impaired by the generation of ROS, previously discussed. mtDNA encodes for 13 proteins, and that includes several essential for oxidative phosphorylation. The role of hemoglobin in O2/CO2 exchange given the redox state of iron, and the significant concentration of mitochondria in the AEC provides a suitable environment for the generation of ROS, which trigger an AEC mtDNA damage response and apoptosis (7). AEC mtDNA damage repair depends on 8-oxoguanine DNA glycosylase (OGG1) and mitochondrial aconitase (ACO-2), as they actively maintain mtDNA integrity. Reactive oxygen species (ROS)-driven mitochondrial metabolism is modulated by SIRTs. Indeed, SIRT3 is a mitochondrial deactylase linked to mitochondrial metabolism and mtDNA integrity. Moreover, it is known that there is crosstalk between mitochondrial ROS production, mtDNA damage, p53 activation, OGG1, and ACO-2 acting as a mitochondrial redox-sensor involved in mtDNA maintenance (7). Oxidative stress-induced mtROS induces mtDNA damage. It decreases the concentration of SIRT3, ACo-2 and mtOGG1 in AEC, and thereby causes a defective electron transport (ETC) that results in mitochondrial dysfunction, AEC apoptosis, and pulmonary fibrosis.

MtDNA encodes only 3% of mitochondrial proteins, and the rest are nuclear DNA proteins that are transported into the mitochondrion by transfer from the cytosol into the inner membrane. However, OGG1, ACO-2, mitochondrial transcription factor A (Tfam) are among those proteins encoded by nDNA essential for maintaining mtDNA integrity, as are those proteins involved in mtDNA repair. Nevertheless, mtDNA is ~50-fold more sensitive to oxidative damage because of proximity to the ETC, and are without histone protection, and repair mechanisms are limited. Consequently, stress-induced mtDNA damage has a mutation rate that is 10-fold greater than nDNA mtDNA damage. mtDNA mutations can then lead to mitochondrial dysfunction, including the collapse in the mitochondrial membrane potential (ΔΨm) and release of pro-apoptogenic agents (7).

The mitochondrial ETC generates hydroxyl radicals (HO), superoxide anions (O2•−), and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) generated from redox-active ferrous (Fe2+) iron or contact with asbestos fibers that impair ETC function by decreasing SIRT3, ACo-2 and mtOGG1 in AEC, causing mtDNA damage creating energy imbalance leading to apoptosis. (Not shown. from Seok-Jo Kim, P Cheresh, RP Jablonski, DB Williams and DW Kamp. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2015; 16: 21486-21519.


AEC apoptosis and pulmonary fibrosis

AEC apoptosis is followed by pulmonary fibrosis (PF) because of mutation –related damage to AEC Type 2 (AT2) cells (i.e., surfactant C and A2 genes, MUC5b). Oxidative stress occurs in the majority of AT2 cells, many of them having shortened telomeres, and PF occurs in the underlying matrix (7). This is evidenced with activation by various fibrotic stimuli that stimulate pro-apoptotic Bcl-2 family members action (i.e., ROS, DNA damage, asbestos, etc.). The intrinsic apoptotic death pathway acting in mitochondria results in increased permeability of the outer mitochondrial membrane, reduced ΔΨm. This is accompanied by the release of apoptotic proteins, such as cytochrome c, that activate pro-apoptotic caspase-9 and caspase-3.

Pulmonary fibrosis is driven by PINK1 expression and AEC apoptosis. Pro-apoptotic Bim activation is associated with mitochondria-regulated apoptosis and fibrosis. In addition, mitochondrial quality control pathway disruptions lead to accumulation of mtDNA mutations. These mtDNA mutations may compromise ETC function, and they also drive AEC to aerobic glycolysis, associated with the lung cancer phenotype (7).

AEC mtDNA damage is modulated by p53 in the pro-fibrotic lung response (8). In this process, plasminogen activator inhibitor (PAI-1) promotes AEC apoptosis, and at the same time reduces fibroblast proliferation and collagen production. At the same time there is crosstalk between the p53-uPA fibrinolytic system in AT2 cells. A change in phenotype in lung fibroblasts and tissue injury includes lung fibrosis. This is brought on by mtDNA damage and a DNA damage-associated molecular pattern (DAMP) that activates innate immun responses, especially toll like receptor (TLR)-9 signaling (8).
Concurrently, ACO-2 can be relocated from the TCA cycle to the nucleosome to stabilize the mtDNA with subsequent removal of oxidized Aco-2 by Lon protease (9).

Consider the role that UPR plays a role in lung diseases caused by the expression of genetically mutated, misfolded proteins. In cystic fibrosis, The UPR in airway epithelial cells is activated by mutant cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) delta F508, which interferes with CFTR expression and activates the innate immune response. The UPR in AT2 induces AT2 apoptosis concomitant with epithelial–mesenchymal transformation and extracellular matrix production in mutant surfactant protein C–induced interstitial pulmonary fibrosis (IPF)(10). It also is assumed to play a role in the pathogenesis of COPD. Potential mechanisms that activate the UPR in AT2 cells include direct oxidation of client proteins or chaperones, impaired function of the proteasome or autophagosomes, and decreased expression of miRNAs.


Disease specific UPR involvement in pulmonary fibrosis

  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF)

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is characterized by repeated injury to the alveolar epithelium with loss of lung epithelial cells and abnormal tissue repair, which results in accumulation of fibroblasts and myofibroblasts, deposit of extracellular matrix components and distorted lung architecture (11). The expression of heme oxygenase-1, a critical defender against oxidative stress, is decreased in macrophages of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis patients, suggesting an oxidant–antioxidant imbalance in the pathogenesis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (12).

Epithelial apoptosis leads to the release of growth factors and chemokines, which recruit fibroblasts to the site of injury (fibroblastic foci). Thus, myofibroblasts proliferate and extracellular matrix is deposited continues unabated in IPF. The transformation of epithelial cells into mesenchymal cells is a process known as epithelial mesenchymal transition. It allows direct communication between cells, and may explain the buildup of myofibroblasts in interstitial pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). When the distal epithelium in the lung becomes injured the basement membrane loses its integrity. It has to re-epithelialize the surface. Growth factors locally produced can potentially recruit fibroblasts or myofibroblasts (11). TGFb
-/- mice are devoid of avb6 integrin. Hence, they are unable to activate latent TGF-b1 and are protected from bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis. Primary AECs were found to produce ET-1 at physiologically active levels and increased synthesis of TGF-b1 and the induction of EMT in AECs (11). The fibrosis of IPF occurs only in the lung, is the major source of surfactant proteins (SPs), such as SP-C. This protein appears vulnerable to mutations that disrupt folding and secretion. Recent studies found that IPF patients carry increased number of apoptotic cells in alveolar and bronchial epithelia. The bleomycin mouse model supports an hypothesis that inhibition of epithelial cell apoptosis prevents the development of the fibrosis (1).

  • Interstitial pulmonary fibrosis (IPF)

IPF is the most common variety of lung fibrosis and carries a sobering mortality approaching 50% at 3–4 years (7). Increased oxidative DNA damage is seen in IPF, silicosis, and asbestosis patients, as well in experimental animal models. Ras-related C3 botulinum toxin substrate 1 (Rac1), is a protein encoded by the RAC1 gene found in human cells, which has a variety of alternatively spliced versions of the Rac1 protein (13). The UPR is activated in AT2 cells and induces epithelial–mesenchymal transformation, extracellular matrix production, and type II cell apoptosis In mutant surfactant protein C–induced interstitial pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) (10). The fibrotic phenotype of activated myofibroblasts show inhibition of the ER stress-induced IRE1a signaling pathway by using the inhibitor 4l8C that blocks TGFb-induced activation of myofibroblasts in vitro (13). IRE1a cleaves miR-150 releasing the suppressive effect that miR-150 exerts on aSMA expression through c-Myb. It also blocks ER expansion through an XBP-1-dependent pathway. In addition, prominent expression of UPR markers in AECs has been shown in the lungs of patients with surfactant protein C (SFTPC) mutation-associated fibrosis (14). Patients without SFTPC mutations with familial interstitial pneumonia and patients with sporadic IPF had selective UPR activation of AECs lining areas where there was fibrotic remodeling.
Activation of the UPR pathways may result from altered surfactant protein processing or chronic herpesvirus infection.

Fibroblasts in fibroblastic foci of IPF showed immunoreactivity for GRP78. In addition, TGF-b1 increased expression of GRP78, XBP-1, and ATF6a, which was accompanied by increases in a-SMA and collagen type I expression in mouse and human fibroblasts (15). TGF-b1–induced UPR and a-SMA and collagen type I induction were suppressed by the 4-PBA chaperone. Therefore, UPR is involved in myofibroblastic differentiation during fibrosis.

Initial observations linking ER stress and IPF were made in cases of familial interstitial pneumonia (FIP), the familial form of IPF, in a family with a mutation in surfactant protein C (SFTPC). ER stress markers are highly expressed in the alveolar epithelium in IPF and FIP (15). ER stress is induced in the alveolar epithelium predisposed to enhanced lung fibrosis after treatment with bleomycin, which is mediated at least in part by increased alveolar epithelial cell (AEC) apoptosis. In another study, aged mice developed greater ER stress in the AEC population linked to MHV68 infection as a result of increased BiP expression and increased XBP1 splicing, as well as increased AEC apoptosis, compared with young mice (16).


Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (COPD)

Inflammatory and infectious factors are present in diseased airways that interact with G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs), such as purinergic receptors and bradykinin (BK) receptors, to stimulate phospholipase C [PLC]. This is followed by the activation of inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (IP3)-dependent activation of IP3 channel receptors in the ER, which results in channel opening and release of stored Ca2+ into the cytoplasm. When ER Ca2+ stores are depleted a pathway for Ca2+ influx across the plasma membrane is activated. This has been referred to as “capacitative Ca2+ entry”, and “store-operated calcium entry” (3). In the next step PLC mediated Ca2+ i is mobilized as a result of GPCR activation by inflammatory mediators, which triggers cytokine production by Ca2+ i-dependent activation of the transcription factor nuclear factor kB (NF-kB) in airway epithelia. Ca2+ binding proteins including calmodulin, protein kinases C (PKCs) and the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) can link Ca2+ i mobilization to NF-kB activation. Ca2+ i from ER Ca2+ release and/or a Ca2+ influx through the plasma membrane can be sensed by Ca2+ binding proteins (3). Chronically infected/inflamed native human bronchial epithelia exhibit UPR activation-dependent XBP-1 mRNA splicing and ER Ca2+ store expansion.

Protein secretion can constitute an irreversible loss of amino acids into the extracellular environment and produce net loss of equivalents from the cell. The greater the secretory burden, the greater the loss of amino acids and reducing equivalents from the cell. Activation of the UPR results in accumulation of ROS in PERK knockout cells. ATF4(-/-) and PERK (-/-) knockout cells require amino acid and cysteine supplementation to replenish amino acids lost during secretion. ATF4 would be required to induce the transcription of genes involved in amino acid import, glutathione biosynthesis and resistance to oxidative stress (3). Oxidative stress is a hallmark of CF airways disease and ATF4-induced amino acid transport is necessary for a protective role in inflamed CF airway epithelia.

Airway epithelial infection/inflammation induces ER stress-dependent activation of UPR-mediated ER Ca2+ store expansion (via XBP-1 mRNA splicing). The airway epithelial ER Ca2+ store is beneficial to the clearing of infection in normal airways. Epithelial ER Ca2+ store expansion-mediated amplification of airway inflammation may not be adequate for cystic fibrosis (CF) and COPD airways (3).

Changes in phosphor-eIF2a and CHOP expression correlate directly with the severity of airflow obstruction in COPD (10). An increase in CHOP in COPD was associated with increases in caspase 3 and 7, suggesting that the PERK pathway was contributing to heightened apoptosis in COPD. Mucous hypersecretion contributes to symptomatology and morbidity in COPD. IRE1b expression in airway epithelial cells promotes mucus cell development and mucin production.


Cigarette Smoke and COPD

Cigarette smoking is the major cause of COPD and accounts for more than 95% of cases in industrialized countries. It is the third largest cause of death in the world. It is now well established that cardiovascular -related comorbidities such as stroke contribute to morbidity and mortality in COPD (18). COPD involves chronic obstructive bronchiolitis with fibrosis, obstruction of small airways, emphysema with enlargement of airspaces, destruction of lung parenchyma, and loss of lung elasticity and closure of small airways. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is characterized by progressive airflow limitation and loss of lung function (18). Chronic obstructive bronchiolitis, emphysema and mucus plugging are all characteristic features.

Proteomes of lung samples were taken from chronic cigarette smokers. There were 26 differentially expressed proteins (20 were up-regulated, 5 were down-regulated, and 1 was detected only in the smoking group) compared with nonsmokers. Several UPR proteins were up-regulated in smokers compared with nonsmokers and ex-smokers, including the chaperones, glucose-regulated protein 78 (GRP78) and calreticulin; a foldase, protein disulfide isomerase (PDI), and enzymes involved in antioxidant defense (18). Indeed, a UPR response in the human lung occurs in cigarette smoking that is rapid in onset, concentration dependent, and may be partially reversible with smoking cessation.
Of the proteins reported in chronic smokers, four are involved in translation and ribosome formation (60S acidic ribosomal protein P2, heat shock protein 27, and elongation factors-1b and -1d). Heat shock protein 27 inhibits formation of the large and small ribosomal complex, and 60S acidic ribosomal protein P2 associates with elongation factor-2 to form the large and small ribosomal complex. Glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase, malate dehydrogenase, and ATP synthase subunit beta were up-regulated, and the inflammatory protein S100-A9/calgranulin C, an EF hand calcium-binding protein, was down-regulated (19).


The current status of a consolidated view of chronic pulmonary fibrotic diseases could not have been envisioned in a 19th century scientific framework. There was no scientific guideline for constructing such a perspective. I have written this perspective on lung diseases keeping in memory the contributions of my mentor, Averill A. Liebow. I have not included pulmonary carcinoma in this discussion, although it too has a place. It was in 1927 that Otto Warburg conducted his historic work with rediscovery of the observation of Louis Pasteur more than a half century earlier in his observation of aerobic glycolysis in cancer cells. The mitochondrion was not known then, which he referred to as “grana”. There was no clear mechanism for such a phenomenon. This discussion based on a growing body of work brings greater clarity to the relationship between lung development, the aging of pulmonary tissue, and the process of tissue remodeling, with a more unified view of pulmonary degeneration that even applies to pulmonary hypertension.



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University Children’s Hospital Zurich (Universitäts-Kinderspital Zürich), Switzerland – A Prominent Center of Pediatric Research and Medicine

Author: Gail S. Thornton, M.A.

Co-Editor: The VOICES of Patients, Hospital CEOs, HealthCare Providers, Caregivers and Families: Personal Experience with Critical Care and Invasive Medical Procedures


University Children’s Hospital Zurich (Universitäts-Kinderspital Zürich —, in Switzerland, is the largest specialized, child and adolescent hospital in the country and one of the leading research centers for pediatric and youth medicine in Europe. The hospital, which has about 220 beds, numerous outpatient clinics, a day clinic, an interdisciplinary emergency room, and a specialized rehabilitation center, is a non-profit private institution that offers a comprehensive range of more than 40 medical sub-specializations, including heart conditions, bone marrow transplantation and burns. There are approximately 2,200 physicians, nurses, and other allied health care and administrative personnel employed at the hospital.

Just as important, the hospital houses the Children’s Research Center (CRC), the first research center in Switzerland that is solely dedicated to pediatric research, and is on par with the largest children’s clinics in the world. The research center provides a strong link between research and clinical experience to ensure that the latest scientific findings are made available to patients and implemented in life-saving therapies. By developing highly precise early diagnoses, innovative therapeutic approaches and effective new drugs, the researchers aim to provide a breakthrough in prevention, treatment and cure of common and, especially, rare diseases in children.

Several significant milestones have been reached over the past year. One important project under way is approval by the hospital management board and Zurich city council to construct a new building, projected to be completed in 2021. The new Children’s Hospital will constitute two main buildings; one building will house the hospital with around 200 beds, and the other building will house university research and teaching facilities.

In the ongoing quest for growing demands for quality, safety and efficiency that better serve patients and their families, the hospital management established a new role of Chief Operating Officer. This new position is responsible for the daily operation of the hospital, focusing on safety and clinical results, building a service culture and producing strong financial results. Greater emphasis on clinical outcomes, patient satisfaction and partnering with physicians, nurses, and other medical and administrative staff is all part of developing a thriving and lasting hospital culture.

Recently, the hospital’s Neurodermatitis Unit in cooperation with Christine Kuehne – Center for Allergy Research and Education (CK-Care), one of Europe’s largest private initiatives in the field of allergology, has won the “Interprofessionality Award” from the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences.  This award highlights best practices among doctors, nurses and medical staff in organizations who work together to diagnose and treat the health and well-being of patients, especially children with atopic dermatitis and their families.

At the northern end of Lake Zurich and between the mountain summit of the Uetliberg and Zurichberg, Children’s Hospital is located in the center of the residential district of Hottingen.



Image SOURCE: Photograph courtesy of Children’s Hospital Zurich (Universitäts-Kinderspital Zürich), Switzerland. Interior and exterior photographs of the hospital.


Below is my interview with Hospital Director and Chief Executive Officer Markus Malagoli, Ph.D., which occurred in December, 2016.

How do you keep the spirit of innovation alive? 

Dr. Malagoli: Innovation in an organization, such as the University Children’s Hospital, correlates to a large extent on the power to attract the best and most innovative medical team and administrative people. It is our hope that by providing our employees with the time and financial resources to undertake needed research projects, they will be opened to further academic perspectives. At first sight, this may seem to be an expensive opportunity. However, in the long run, we have significant research under way in key areas which benefits children ultimately. It also gives our hospital the competitive edge in providing quality care and helps us recruit the best physicians, nurses, therapists, social workers and administrative staff.

The Children’s Hospital Zurich is nationally and internationally positioned as highly specialized in the following areas:

  • Cardiology and cardiac surgery: pediatric cardiac center,
  • Neonatal and malformation surgery as well as fetal surgery,
  • Neurology and neurosurgery as well as neurorehabilitation,
  • Oncology, hematology and immunology as well as oncology and stem cell transplants,
  • Metabolic disorders and endocrinology as well as newborn screening, and
  • Combustion surgery and plastic reconstructive surgery.

We provide patients with our special medical expertise, as well as an expanded  knowledge and new insights into the causes, diagnosis, treatment and prophylaxis of diseases, accidents or deformities. We have more than 40 medical disciplines that cover the entire spectrum of pediatrics as well as child and youth surgery.

As an example, for many years, we have treated all congenital and acquired heart disease in children. Since 2004, specialized heart surgery and post-operative care in our cardiac intensive care unit have been carried out exclusively in our child-friendly hospital. A separate heart operation area was set up for this purpose. The children’s heart center also has a modern cardiac catheter laboratory for children and adolescents with all diagnostic and catheter-interventional therapeutic options. Heart-specific non-invasive diagnostic possibilities using MRI are available as well as a large cardiology clinic with approximately 4,500 outpatient consultations per year. In April 2013, a special ward only for cardiac patients was opened and our nursing staff is highly specialized in the care of children with heart problems.

In addition to the advanced medical diagnostics and treatment of children, we also believe in the importance of caring and supporting families of sick children with a focus on their psychosocial well-being. For this purpose, a team of specialized nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers are available. Occasionally, the children and their families need rehabilitation and we work with a team of specialists to plan and organize the best in-house or out-patient rehabilitation for the children and their families.

We also provide therapeutic, rehabilitation and social services that encompass nutritional advice, art and expression therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, psychomotor therapy, a helpline for rare diseases, pastoral care, social counseling, and even hospital clowns. Our hospital teams work together to provide our patients with the best care so they are on the road to recovery in the fastest possible way.

What draws patients to Children’s Hospital?

Dr. Malagoli: Our hospital depends heavily on complex, interdisciplinary cases. For many diagnosis and treatments, our hospital is the last resort for children and adolescents in Switzerland and even across other countries. Our team is fully committed to the welfare of the patients they treat in order to deal with complex medical cases, such as diseases and disorders of the musculo-skeletal system and connective tissue, nervous system, respiratory system, digestive system, and ear, nose and throat, for example.

Most of our patients come from Switzerland and other cantons within the country, yet other patients come from as far away as Russia and the Middle East. Our hospital sees about 80,000 patients each year in the outpatient clinic for conditions, such as allergic pulmonary diseases, endocrinology and diabetology, hepatology, and gastroenterology; about 7,000 patients a year are seen for surgery; and about 37,000 patients a year are treated in the emergency ward.

We believe that parents are not visitors; they belong to the sick child’s healing, growth, and development. This guiding principle is a challenge for us, because we care not only for sick children, but also for their families, who may need personal or financial resources. Many of our services for parents, for example, are not paid by the Swiss health insurance and we depend strongly on funds from private institutions. We want to convey the feeling of security to children and adolescents of all ages and we involve the family in the recovery process.

What are the hospital’s strengths?

Dr. Malagoli: A special strength of our hospital is the interdisciplinary thinking of our teams. In addition to the interdisciplinary emergency and intensive care units, there are several internal institutionalized meetings, such as the uro-nephro-radiological conference on Mondays, the oncological conference and the gastroenterological meeting on Tuesdays,  and the pneumological case discussion on Wednesdays, where complex cases are discussed among our doctors. Foreign doctors are welcome to these meetings, and cases are also discussed at the appropriate external medical conferences.

Can you discuss some of the research projects under way at the Children’s Research Center (CRC)?

Dr. Malagoli: Our Children’s Research Center, the first research center in Switzerland focused on pediatric research, works closely with our hospital team. From basic research to clinical application, the hospital’s tasks in research and teaching is at the core of the Children’s Research Center for many young and established researchers and, ultimately, also for patients.

Our research projects focus on:

  • Behavior of the nervous, metabolic, cardiovascular and immune system in all stages of growth and development of the child’s condition,
  • Etiology (causes of disease) and treatment of genetic diseases,
  • Tissue engineering of the skin and skin care research: from a few cells of a child,  complex two-layered skin is produced in the laboratory for life-saving measures after severe burns and treatment of congenital anomalies of the skin,
  • Potential treatment approaches of the most severe infectious diseases, and
  • Cancer diseases of children and adolescents.

You are making great strides in diagnostic work in the areas of Hematology, Immumology, Infectiology and Oncology. Would you elaborate on this particular work that is taking place at the hospital?

Dr. Malagoli: The Department of Image Diagnostics handles radiological and ultrasonographic examinations, and the numerous specialist labs offer a complete  range of laboratory diagnostics.

The laboratory center makes an important contribution to the clarification and treatment of disorders of immune defense, blood and cancer, as well as infections of all kinds and severity. Our highly specialized laboratories offer a large number of analyzes which are necessary in the assessment of normal and pathological cell functions and take into account the specifics and requirements of growth and development in children and infants.

The lab center also participates in various clinical trials and research projects. This allows on-going validation and finally introducing the latest test methods.

The laboratory has been certified as ISO 9001 by the Swiss Government since 2002 and has met the quality management system requirements on meeting patient expectations and delivering customer satisfaction. The interdisciplinary cooperation and careful communication of the laboratory results are at the center of our activities. Within the scope of our quality assurance measures, we conduct internal quality controls on a regular basis and participate in external tests. Among other things, the work of the laboratory center is supervised by the cantonal medicine committee and Swissmedic organization.

Additionally, the Metabolism Laboratory  offers a wide variety of biochemical and molecular diagnostic analysis, including those for the following areas:

  • Disorders in glycogen and fructose metabolism,
  • Lysosomal disorders,
  • Disorders of biotin and vitamin B12 metabolism,
  • Urea cycle disorders and Maple Syrup Urine Disease (MSUD),
  • Congenital disorders of protein glycosylation, and
  • Hereditary disorders of connective tissue, such as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Marfan Syndrome.

Screening for newborn conditions is equally important. The Newborn Screening Laboratory examines all newborn children in Switzerland for congenital metabolic and hormonal diseases. Untreated, the diseases detected in the screening lead in most cases to serious damage to different organs, but especially to the development of the brain. Thanks to the newborn screening, the metabolic and hormonal diseases that are being sought can be investigated by means of modern methods shortly after birth. For this, only a few drops of blood are necessary, which are taken from the heel on the third or fourth day after birth. On a filter paper strip, these blood drops are sent to the laboratory of the Children’s Hospital Zurich, where they are examined for the following diseases:

  • Phenylketonuria (PKU),
  • Hypothyroidism,
  • MCAD deficiency,
  • Adrenogenital Syndrome (AGS),
  • Galactosemia,
  • Biotinide deficiency,
  • Cystic Fibrosis (CF),
  • Glutaraziduria Type 1 (GA-1), and
  • Maple Syrup Urine Disease (MSUD).

Ongoing physician medical education and executive training is important for the overall well-being of the hospital. Would you describe the program and the courses?

Dr. Malagoli:  We place a high priority on medical education and training with a focus on children, youth, and their families. The various departments of the hospital offer regular specialist training courses for interested physicians at regular intervals. Training is available in the following areas:

  • Anesthesiology,
  • Surgery,
  • Developmental Pediatrics,
  • Cardiology,
  • Clinical Chemistry and Biochemistry,
  • Neuropediatrics,
  • Oncology,
  • Pediatrics, and
  • Rehabilitation.

As a training hospital, we have built an extensive network or relationships with physicians in Switzerland as well as other parts of the world, who take part in our ongoing medical education opportunities that focus on specialized pediatrics and  pediatric surgery. Also, newly trained, young physicians who are in private practice or affiliated with other children’s hospitals often take part in our courses.

We also offer our hospital management and leaders from other organizations professional development in the areas of leadership or specialized competence training. We believe that all executives in leadership or management roles contribute significantly to our success and to a positive working climate. That is why we have developed crucial training in specific, work-related courses, including planning and communications skills, professional competence, and entrepreneurial development.

How is Children’s Hospital transforming health care? 

Dr. Malagoli: The close cooperation between doctors, nurses, therapists and social workers is a key success factor in transforming health care. We strive for comprehensive child care that does not only focus on somatic issues but also on psychological support for patients and their families and social re-integration. However, it becomes more and more difficult to finance all the necessary support services.

Many supportive services, for example, for parents and families of sick children are not paid by health insurance in Switzerland and we do not receive financial support from the Swiss Government. Since 2012, we have the Swiss Diagnosis Related Groups (DRG) guidelines, a new tariff system for inpatient hospital services, that regulates costs for treatment in hospitals all over the country and those costs do not consider the amount of extra services we provide for parents and families as a children’s hospital. Those DRG principles mostly are for hospitals who treat adult patients.

Since you stepped into your role as CEO, how have you changed the way that you deliver health care?

Dr. Malagoli: I have definitely not reinvented health care! Giving my staff the space for individual development and the chance to realize their ideas is probably my main contribution to our success. Working with children is for many people motivating and enriching. We benefit from that, too. Moreover, we have managed to build up a culture of confidence and mutual respect – we call it the “Kispi-spirit”. “Kispi” as abbreviation of “Kinderspital.” Please visit our special recruiting site, which is

I can think of a few examples where our doctors and medical teams have made a difference in the lives of our patients. Two of our physicians – PD (Privatdozent, a private university teacher) Dr. med. Alexander Moller and Dr. med. Florian Singer, Ph.D. – are involved in the development of new pulmonary functions tests which allow us to diagnose chronic lung diseases at an early stage in young children.

  • Often times, newly born babies have a lung disease but do not show any specific symptoms, such as coughing. One of these new tests measures lung function based on inhaling and exhaling pure oxygen, rather than using the standard spirometry test used in children and adults to assess how well an infant’s lungs work by measuring how much air they inhale, how much they exhale and how quickly they exhale. The new test is currently part of a clinical routine in children with cystic fibrosis as well as in clinical trials in Europe. The test is so successful that the European Respiratory Society presented Dr. med. Singer, Ph.D., with the ‘Pediatric Research Award’ in 2015.
  • Another significant research question among the pediatric pulmonary disease community is how asthma can be diagnosed reliably and at an earlier stage. PD Dr. med. Moller, chief physician of Pneumology at the hospital, has high hopes in a new way to measure exhaled air via mass spectrometry. If it succeeds, it will be able to evaluate changes in the lungs of asthmatics or help with more specific diagnoses of pneumonia.

In what ways have you built greater transparency, accountability and quality improvement for the benefit of patients?

Dr. Malagoli: Apart from the quality measures which are prescribed by Swiss law, we have decided not to strive for quality certifications and accreditations. We focus on outcome quality, record our results in quality registers and compare our outcome internationally with the best in class.

Our team of approximately 2,200 specialized physicians largely comes from Switzerland, although we have attracted a number of doctors from countries such as Germany, Portugal, Italy, Austria, and even Serbia, Turkey, Macedonia, Slovakia, and Croatia.

We recently conducted an employee satisfaction survey, which showed about 88 percent of employees were very satisfied or satisfied with their working conditions at the hospital and the job we are doing with patients and their families. This ranking is particularly gratifying for us as a service provider for the children and families we serve.

How does your volunteer program help families better deal with hospitalized children?

Dr. Malagoli: We have an enormous commitment from volunteers to care for hospitalized children and we are grateful to them. We offer our patients and their families child care, dog therapy, and even parenting by the Aladdin Foundation, a volunteer visiting service for hospitalized children to relieve parents and relatives and help young patients stay in hospital to recover quickly. The volunteers visit the child in the absence of the parents and are fully briefed on the child’s condition and care plan. The handling of care request usually takes no more than 24 hours and is free of charge. The assignments range from one-off visits to daily care for several weeks.


Image SOURCE: Photograph of Hospital Director and Chief Executive Officer Markus Malagoli, Ph.D., courtesy of Children’s Hospital Zurich (Universitäts-Kinderspital Zürich), Switzerland.  

Markus Malagoli, Ph.D.
Director and Chief Executive Officer

Markus Malagoli, Ph.D., has been Hospital Director and Chief Executive Officer of the University Children’s Hospital Zurich (Universitäts-Kinderspital Zürich), since 2007.

Prior to his current role, Dr. Malagoli served as Chairman of Hospital Management and Head of Geriatrics of the Schaffhausen-Akutspital, the only public hospital in the Canton of Schaffhausen, from 2003 through 2007, where he was responsible for 10 departments, including surgery, internal medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, rheumatology/rehabilitation, throat and nose, eyes, radiology, anesthesia, hospital pharmacy and administration. The hospital employs approximately 1,000 physicians, nursing staff, other medical personal, as well as administration and operational services employees. On average, around 9,000 individuals are treated in the hospital yearly. Previously, he was Administrative Director at the Hospital from 1996 through 2003.

Dr. Malagoli began his career at Ciba-Geigy in 1985, spending 11 years in the company. He worked in Business Accounting in Basel, and a few years later, became Head of the Production Information System department in Basel. He then was transferred to Ciba-Geigy in South Africa as Controller/Treasurer and returned to Basel as Project Manager for the SAP Migration Project in Accounting.

Dr. Malagoli received his B.A. degree in Finance and Accounting and a Ph.D. in Business Administration at the University of St. Gallen.

He is a member of the Supervisory Board of Schaffhausen-Akutspital and President of the Ungarbühl in Schaffhausen, a dormitory for individuals with developmental impairments.

Editor’s note:

We would like to thank Manuela Frey, communications manager, University Children’s Hospital Zurich, for the help and support she provided during this interview.



University Children’s Hospital Zurich (Universitäts-Kinderspital Zürich —

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Point of care pulse oximetry

Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP



Not All FDA-Cleared Finger Pulse Oximeters Perform Alike

Nonin Medical, Inc., the inventor of finger pulse oximetry, today announced the results of a new independent hypoxia lab study in humans that demonstrates that Nonin’s PureSAT pulse oximetry technology captures and reports worsening patient conditions better than other Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-cleared oximeter brands.1Nonin made the results available in a white paper at the American Thoracic Society (ATS) and American Telemedicine Association (ATA) conferences this week.

Not all FDA-cleared finger pulse oximeters perform alike, says a new study. Nonin Medical’s pulse oximetry technology was found to be more accurate in patients with challenging conditions, such as COPD.

In the study, conducted independently by Clinimark Laboratories in Boulder, Colo., three finger pulse oximeters were tested; one from Nonin Medical and two from large, private-labeled manufacturers. All oximeters had FDA 510(k) clearance as “medical devices,” but two of them did not provide the clinical accuracy required to track desaturations in patients with low blood circulation and labored breathing. Only the Nonin Medical oximeter was able to accurately track the desaturation events as compared to an independent hospital tabletop oximeter control device.

Not all FDA-cleared finger pulse oximeters perform alike, says a new study. Nonin Medical’s pulse oximetry technology was found to be more accurate in patients with challenging conditions, such as COPD. (Credit: PRNewsFoto/Nonin Medical, Inc.)

“Over the years, a number of inexpensive, imported FDA-cleared oximeters have flooded the market, all claiming to be accurate,” said Jim Russell, vice president of quality, regulatory and clinical affairs for Nonin Medical. “This study dispels the myth that all pulse oximeters perform alike, especially on challenging patients such as those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

“Clinicians, hospitals and telemedicine providers can better manage COPD patients and potentially reduce readmission rates by choosing pulse oximeters that provide early and accurate data on all patients, including the sickest patients. Nonin Medical’s oximeter performance is proven,” Russell said.

1Batchelder, P.B., Fingertip Pulse Oximeter Performance in Dyspnea and Low Perfusion During Hypoxic Events. Clinimark Laboratories, Boulder, Colorado. 2016. White Paper.

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What about PDL-1 in oncotherapy diagnostics for NSCLC?

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator


UPDATED 5/15/2019

Questions on PD-L1 Diagnostics for Immunotherapy in NSCLC
Alexander M. Castellino, PhD

Two immunotherapies that target the cell programmed death (PD) pathway are now available, and both nivolumab (Opdivo, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda, Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp) are approved for treating advanced, refractory, non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Across several studies in patients with NSCLC, response to these agents has been correlated with PD-L1 staining, which determines PD-L1 levels in the tumor tissue. How do the available assays for PD-L1 compare?

The linear correlation between three commercially available assays is good across a range of cutoff points, concluded a presentation at the 2016 American Association for Clinical Research Annual Meeting.

Cutoffs are defined as the percentage of cells expressing PD-L1 when analyzed histochemically. “The dataset builds confidence that the assays may be used according to the cutoff clinically validated for the drug in question,” Marianne J. Radcliffe, MD, diagnostic associate director at AstraZeneca, toldMedscape Medical News.

“The correlation is good between the assays across the range examined,” she added.

However, a recently published study showed a high rate of discordance between another set of PD-L1 assays that were tested.

Dr Marianne Radcliffe

“Different diagnostic tests yield different results, depending on the cutoff for each assay. We need to harmonize the assays so clinicians are talking about the same thing,” Brendon Stiles, MD, associate professor of cardiothoracic surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York City, told Medscape Medical News.

For Dr Stiles, these studies raise the issue that it is difficult to compare results of diagnostic testing across the different drugs and even with the same drug that are derived from different assays. “More importantly, it raises confusion in clinical practice when a patient’s sample stains positive for PD-L1 with one assay and negative with another,” he said.

“The commercial strategy for developing companion diagnostics for each drug is not in the best interests of the patients. It generates confusion among both clinicians and patients,” Dr Stiles commented. “We need to know if these assays can be used interchangeably,” he said.

As new agents come into the clinic, Dr Stiles believes there should be a universal yes-or-no answer, so that clinicians can use the assay to help decide on the use of immunotherapy.

Three Assays Tested

The study presented by Dr Radcliffe and colleagues investigated three commercially available assays, Ventana SP263, Dako 22C3, and Dako 28-8, with regard to how they compare at different cutoffs. Different studies use different cutoffs to express positivity.

Ventana SP263 was developed as a companion diagnostic for durvalumab (under development by AstraZeneca) using a rabbit monoclonal antibody. Positivity is defined as ≥25% staining of tumor cells.

Dako 22C3 was developed, and is approved, as a companion diagnostic for pembrolizumab. It uses a mouse monoclonal antibody. Positivity is defined as ≥1% and ≥50% staining of tumor cells.

Dako 28-8 was developed as a companion diagnostic for nivolumab and uses a rabbit monoclonal antibody (different from the one used in the Ventana SP263). In clinical practice, this assay is used as a complementary diagnostic for nivolumab, but the drug is approved for use regardless of PD-L1 expression. Positivity is defined as ≥1%, ≥5%, or ≥10% staining of tumor cells.

Ventana SP142 was not included in the study because it is not commercially available, Dr Ratcliffe indicated.
The three assays were used on consecutive sections of 500 archival NSCLC tumor samples obtained from commercial vendors. A single pathologist trained by the manufacturer read all samples in batches on an assay-by-assay basis. Samples were assessed per package inserts provided by Ventana and Dako in a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments program-certified laboratory.

Dr Ratcliffe indicated that between reads of samples from the same patient, there was a washout period for the pathologist to remove bias.

The NSCLC samples included patients with stage I (38%), II (39%), III (20%), and IV (<1%) disease. Histologies included nonsquamous (54%) and squamous (43%) cancers.

All three PD-L1 assays showed similar patterns of staining in the range of 0% to 100%, Dr Ratcliffe indicated.


The correlation between any two of the assays was determined from tumor cell membrane staining. The correlation was linear with Spearman correlation of 0.911 for Ventana SP263 vs Dako 22C3; 0.935 for Ventana SP263 vs Dako 28-8; and 0.954 for Dako 28-8 vs Dako 22C3.

“With an overall predictive value of >90%, the assays have closely aligned dynamic ranges, but more work is needed,” Dr Ratcliffe said. “In general, scoring of immunohistochemical assays can be more variable between 1% and 10%, and we plan to look at this in more detail,” she said. These samples need to be reviewed by an independent pathologist, she added.

Dr Radcliffe said that currently, “Direct clinical efficacy data supporting a specific diagnostic test should still be considered as the highest standard of proof for diagnostic clinical utility.”

Why Correlations Are Needed

Pembrolizumab is approved for use only in patients with PD-L1-positive, previously treated NSCLC. A similar patient profile is being considered for nivolumab, for which testing for PD-L1 expression is not required.

For new PD-immunotherapy agents in clinical development, it is not clear whether PD-L1 testing will be mandated.

However, in clinical practice, it is clear that some patients respond to therapy, even if they are PD-L1 negative, as defined from the study. “Is it a failure of the assay, tumor heterogeneity, or is there another time point when PD-L1 expression is turned on?” Dr Stiles asked.

Dr Stiles also pointed out that a recent publication from Yale researchers showed a high a rate of discordance. In this study, PD-L1 expression was determined using two rabbit monoclonal antibodies. Both of these were different from the ones used in the Ventana SP263 and Dako 28-8 assays.

In this study, whole-tissue sections from 49 NSCLC samples were used, and a corresponding tissue microarray was also used with the same 49 samples. Researchers showed that in 49 NSCLC tissue samples, there was intra-assay variability, with results showing fair to poor concordance with the two antibodies. “Assessment of 588 serial section fields of view from whole tissue showed discordant expression at a frequency of 25%.

“Objective determination of PD-L1 protein levels in NSCLC reveals heterogeneity within tumors and prominent interassay variability or discordance. This could be due to different antibody affinities, limited specificity, or distinct target epitopes. Efforts to determine the clinical value of these observations are under way,” the study authors conclude.

The Blueprint Proposal

Coincidentally, a blueprint proposal was announced here at the AACR meeting at a workshop entitled FDA-AACR-ASCO Complexities in Personalized Medicine: Harmonizing Companion Diagnostics across a Class of Targeted Therapies.

The blueprint proposal was developed by four pharmaceutical giants (Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, Merck & Co, Inc, AstraZeneca PLC, and Genentech, Inc) and two diagnostic companies (Agilent Technologies, Inc/Dako Corp and Roche/Ventana Medical Systems, Inc).

In this proposal, the development of an evidence base for PD-1/PD-L1 companion diagnostic characterization for NSCLC would be built into studies conducted in the preapproval stage. Once the tests are approved, the information will lay the foundation for postapproval studies to inform stakeholders (eg, patients, physicians, pathologists) on how the test results can best be used to make treatment decisions.

The blueprint proposal is available online.

Dr Ratcliffe is an employee and shareholder of AstraZeneca. Dr Stiles has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

 American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) 2016 Annual Meeting: Abstract LB-094, presented April 18, 2016.
Quantitative Assessment of the Heterogeneity of PD-L1 Expression in Non–Small-Cell Lung Cancer
Joseph McLaughlin, 1,2; Gang Han, 3; Kurt A. Schalper, 2; ….,  Roy Herbst, 1; Patricia LoRusso, 1; David L. Rimm, 2

JAMA Oncol. 2016;2(1):46-54.

Importance  Early-phase trials with monoclonal antibodies targeting PD-1 (programmed cell death protein 1) and PD-L1 (programmed cell death 1 ligand 1) have demonstrated durable clinical responses in patients with non–small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). However, current assays for the prognostic and/or predictive role of tumor PD-L1 expression are not standardized with respect to either quantity or distribution of expression.

Objective  To demonstrate PD-L1 protein distribution in NSCLC tumors using both conventional immunohistochemistry (IHC) and quantitative immunofluorescence (QIF) and compare results obtained using 2 different PD-L1 antibodies.

Design, Setting, and Participants  PD-L1 was measured using E1L3N and SP142, 2 rabbit monoclonal antibodies, in 49 NSCLC whole-tissue sections and a corresponding tissue microarray with the same 49 cases. Non–small-cell lung cancer biopsy specimens from 2011 to 2012 were collected retrospectively from the Yale Thoracic Oncology Program Tissue Bank. Human melanoma Mel 624 cells stably transfected with PD-L1 as well as Mel 624 parental cells, and human term placenta whole tissue sections were used as controls and for antibody validation. PD-L1 protein expression in tumor and stroma was assessed using chromogenic IHC and the AQUA (Automated Quantitative Analysis) method of QIF. Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) were scored in hematoxylin-eosin slides using current consensus guidelines. The association between PD-L1 protein expression, TILs, and clinicopathological features were determined.

Main Outcomes and Measures  PD-L1 expression discordance or heterogeneity using the diaminobenzidine chromogen and QIF was the main outcome measure selected prior to performing the study.

Results  Using chromogenic IHC, both antibodies showed fair to poor concordance. The PD-L1 antibodies showed poor concordance (Cohen κ range, 0.124-0.340) using conventional chromogenic IHC and showed intra-assay heterogeneity (E1L3N coefficient of variation [CV], 6.75%-75.24%; SP142 CV, 12.17%-109.61%) and significant interassay discordance using QIF (26.6%). Quantitative immunofluorescence showed that PD-L1 expression using both PD-L1 antibodies was heterogeneous. Using QIF, the scores obtained with E1L3N and SP142 for each tumor were significantly different according to nonparametric paired test (P < .001). Assessment of 588 serial section fields of view from whole tissue showed discordant expression at a frequency of 25%. Expression of PD-L1 was correlated with high TILs using both E1L3N (P = .007) and SP142 (P = .02).

Conclusions and Relevance  Objective determination of PD-L1 protein levels in NSCLC reveals heterogeneity within tumors and prominent interassay variability or discordance. This could be due to different antibody affinities, limited specificity, or distinct target epitopes. Efforts to determine the clinical value of these observations are under way.


Introduction We are in an era of rapid incorporation of basic scientific discoveries into the drug development pipeline. Currently, numerous sponsors are developing therapeutic products that may use similar or identical biomarkers for therapeutic selection, measured or detected by an in vitro companion diagnostic device. The current practice is to independently develop a companion diagnostic for each therapeutic. Thus, the matrix of therapeutics and companion diagnostics, if each therapeutic were approved in conjunction with a companion diagnostic, may present a complex challenge for testing and decision making in the clinic, potentially putting patients at risk if inappropriate diagnostic tests were used to make treatment decisions. To address this challenge, there is a desire to understand assay comparability and/or standardize analytical and clinical performance characteristics supporting claims that are shared across companion diagnostic devices. Pathologists and oncologists also need clarity on how to interpret test results to inform downstream treatment options for their patients.
Clearly using each of the companion diagnostics to select one of the several available targeted therapies in the same class is not practical and may be impossible. Likewise, having a single test or assay as a sole companion test for all of the multiple therapeutic options within a class is also impractical since the individual therapies have differing modes of action, intended use populations, specificities, safety and efficacy outcomes. Thus, a single assay or test may not adequately capture the appropriate patient population that may benefit (or not) from each individual therapeutic option within a class of therapies. Furthermore, aligning multiple sponsors’ study designs and timelines in order that they all adopt a single companion test may inadvertently slow down development of critical therapeutic products and delay patient access to these life-saving products.
Any solution to this challenge will be multifaceted and will, by necessity, involve multiple stakeholders. Thus, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) convened a workshop titled “Complexities in Personalized Medicine: Harmonizing Companion Diagnostics Across a Class of Targeted Therapies” to draw out and assess possible solutions. Recognizing that the complex scientific, regulatory and market forces at play here require a collaborative effort, an industry workgroup volunteered to develop a blueprint proposal of potential solutions using nonsmall cell lung cancer (NSCLC) as the use case indication.
Goal and Scope of Blueprint The imminent arrival to the market of multiple PD1 / PD-L1 compounds and the possibility of one or more associated companion diagnostics is unprecedented in the field of oncology. Some may assume that since these products target the same biological pathway, they are interchangeable; however, each PD1/PD-L1 compound is unique with respect to its clinical pharmacology and each compound is being developed in the context of a unique biological scientific hypothesis and registration strategy. Similarly, each companion diagnostic has been optimized within the individual therapeutic development programs to meet specific development goals, e.g., 1) validation for patient selection, 2) subgroup analysis as a prognostic variable, or 3) enrichment.
Further, each companion diagnostic test is optimized for its specific therapy and with its own unique performance characteristics and scoring/interpretation guidelines.
The blueprint development group recognizes that to assume that any one of the available tests could be used for guiding the treatment decision with any one or all of the drugs available in this class presents a potential risk to patients that must be addressed.
The goal of this proposal is to agree and deliver, via cross industry collaboration, a package of information /data upon which analytic comparison of the various diagnostic assays may be conducted, potentially paving the way for post-market standardization and/or practice guideline development as appropriate.
A comparative study of PD-L1 diagnostic assays and the classification of patients as PD-L1 positive and PD-L1 negative
Presentation Time: Monday, Apr 18, 2016, 8:00 AM -12:00 PM
Location: Section 10
Poster Board Number: 18
Author Block: Marianne J. Ratcliffe1, Alan Sharpe2, Anita Midha1, Craig Barker2, Paul Scorer2, Jill Walker2. 1AstraZeneca, Alderley Park, United Kingdom; 2AstraZeneca, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Abstract Body: Background: PD-1/PD-L1 directed antibodies are emerging as effective therapeutics in multiple oncology settings. Keynote 001 and Checkmate 057 have shown more frequent response to PD-1 targeted therapies in NSCLC patients with high tumour PD-L1 expression than patients with low or no PD-L1 expression. Multiple diagnostic PD-L1 tests are available using different antibody clones, different staining protocols and diverse scoring algorithms. It is vital to compare these assays to allow appropriate interpretation of clinical outcomes. Such understanding will promote harmonization of PD-L1 testing in clinical practice.
Methods: Approximately 500 tumour biopsy samples from NSCLC patients, including squamous and non-squamous histologies, will be assessed using three leading PD-L1 diagnostics assays. PD-L1 assessment by the Ventana SP263 assay that is currently being used in Durvalumab clinical trials (positivity cut off: ≥25% tumour cells with membrane staining) will be compared with the Dako 28-8 assay (used in the Nivolumab Checkmate 057 trial at the 1%, 5% and 10% tumour membrane positivity cut offs), and the Dako 22C3 assay (used in the Pembrolizumab Keynote 001 trial) at the 1% and 50% cut offs).
Results: Preliminary data from 81 non-squamous patients indicated good concordance between the Ventana SP263 and Dako 28-8 assays. Optimal overall percent agreement (OPA) was observed between Dako 28-8 at the 10% cut off and the Ventana SP263 assay (OPA; 96%, Positive percent agreement (PPA); 91%, Negative percent agreement (NPA); 98%), where the Ventana SP263 assay was set as the reference. Data on the full cohort will be presented for all three assays, and a lower 95% confidence interval calculated using the Clopper-Pearson method.
Conclusions: This study indicates that the patient population defined by Ventana SP263 at the 25% cut off is similar to that identified by the Dako-28-8 assay at the 10% tumour membrane cut off. This, together with data on the 22C3 assay, will enable cross comparison of studies using different PD-L1 tests, and widen options for harmonization of PD-L1 diagnostic testing.

Table 1
Reference: Ventana SP-263 (≥25% tumour membrane staining)
Dako 28-8 assay cut off PPA
>1% 58 100 81
>5% 72 100 90
>10% 91 98 96

UPDATED 5/19/2019

Incidence of Adverse Events for PD-1/PD-L1 Inhibitors Underscores Toxicity Risk

May 7, 2019

Approximately two-thirds of cancer patients who received a programmed death 1 (PD-1) or programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1) inhibitor in clinical trials experienced treatment-related adverse events, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis recently published in JAMA Oncology. The study findings may facilitate discussions with cancer patients who are considering PD-1 or PD-L1 therapy.

“The vast majority of patients with advanced cancer want to be on the [PD-1 or PD-L1] therapy,” Eric H. Bernicker, MD, a thoracic medical oncologist with Houston Methodist Cancer Center, told Cancer Network. Not involved in the current study, Bernicker explained that patients perceive these therapies to have “very different” side effects and risks from chemotherapy.

While they do, Bernicker explained, it’s important to underscore, which this study does, that these are not “completely innocuous” therapies. The study findings allow physicians to give numbers to patients and families when counseling them about the risks involved, he said.

The systematic review and meta-analysis is based on data from 125 clinical trials and 20,128 participants. Clinical trials were identified by systematically searching for published clinical trials that evaluated single-agent PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors and reported treatment-related adverse events in PubMed, Web of Science, Embase, and Scopus. The majority of trials evaluated nivolumab (n = 46) or pembrolizumab (n = 49), and the most common cancer types were lung cancer (n = 26), genitourinary cancer (n = 22), melanoma (n = 16), and gastrointestinal cancer (n = 14).

In all, 66.0% of clinical trial participants reported at least 1 adverse event of any grade, and 14.0% reported at least 1 grade 3 or higher adverse event. The most frequently reported adverse events of any grade were fatigue (18.26%), pruritus (10.61%), and diarrhea (9.47%). As for grade 3 or higher events, the most commonly reported were fatigue (0.89%), anemia (0.78%), and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) increase (0.75%).

Frequently reported immune-related adverse events of any grade included diarrhea (9.47%), AST increase (3.39%), vitiligo (3.26%), alanine aminotransferase (ALT) increase (3.14%), pneumonitis (2.79%), and colitis (1.24%). Grade 3 or higher immune-related adverse events included AST increase (0.75%), ALT increase (0.70%), pneumonitis (0.67%), diarrhea (0.59%), and colitis (0.47%).

If present, certain adverse events had increased likelihood of being grade 3 or higher, including hepatitis (risk ratio [RR], 50.59%), pneumonitis (RR, 24.01%), type 1 diabetes (RR, 41.86%), and colitis (RR, 37.90%).

“In terms of the rough percentage of side effects and the breadth of the side effects, this is pretty much what most of us see in the clinic,” Bernicker said, noting that none of the findings were particularly surprising.

Although no differences in adverse event incidence were found across different cancer types, differences were found between PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors in a subgroup analysis. Overall, compared with PD-L1 inhibitors, PD-1 inhibitors had a higher mean incidence of grade 3 or higher events (odds ratio [OR], 1.58; 95% CI, 1.00–2.54). Specifically, nivolumab had a higher mean incidence of grade 3 or higher events (OR, 1.81; 95% CI, 1.04–3.01) compared with PD-L1 inhibitors.

Bernicker commented that these incidence differences on the basis of drug type were “intriguing” but not clinically useful, given that PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors are not interchangeable. He said the finding “needs to be further looked at.”

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Prognostic biomarker for NSCLC and Cancer Metastasis

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator



Membranous CD24 expression as detected by the monoclonal antibody SWA11 is a prognostic marker in non-small cell lung cancer patients

Michael MajoresAnne SchindlerAngela FuchsJohannes SteinLukas HeukampPeter Altevogt and Glen Kristiansen

BMC Clinical Pathology201515:19

Background    Lung cancer is one of the most common malignant neoplasms worldwide and has a high mortality rate. To enable individualized therapy regimens, a better understanding of the molecular tumor biology has still to be elucidated. The expression of the cell surface protein CD24 has already been claimed to be associated with shorter patient survival in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), however, the prognostic value and applicability of CD24 immunostaining in paraffin embedded tissue specimens has been questioned due to the recent acknowledgement of restricted epitope specificity of the commonly used antibody SN3b.   Methods    A cohort of 137 primary NSCLC cases was immunostained with a novel CD24 antibody (clone SWA11), which specifically recognizes the CD24 protein core and the resulting expression data were compared with expression profiles based on the monoclonal antibody SN3b. Furthermore, expression data were correlated to clinico-pathological parameters. Univariate and multivariate survival analyses were conducted with Kaplan Meier estimates and Cox regression, respectively. Results    CD24 positivity was found in 34 % resp. 21 % (SN3b) of NSCLC with a membranous and/or cytoplasmic staining pattern. Kaplan-Meier analyses revealed that membranous, but not cytoplasmic CD24 expression (clone SWA11) was associated with lympho-nodular spread and shorter overall survival times (both p < 0.05). CD24 expression established by SN3b antibodies did not reveal significant clinicopathological correlations with overall survival, neither for cytoplasmic nor membranous CD24 staining.  Conclusions    Membranous CD24 immunoreactivity, as detected with antibody clone SWA11 may serve as a prognostic factor for lymphonodular spread and poorer overall survival. Furthermore, these results corroborate the importance of a careful distinction between membranous and cytoplasmic localisation, if CD24 is to be considered as a potential prognostic biomarker.


Lung cancer is a major cause of carcinoma related death, being responsible for 17.8 % of all cancer deaths and accounting for more than a million deaths worldwide per year [1]. Despite intense studies to improve therapy options, its prognosis has remained poor with a 5-year overall survival rate of less than 15 % [2].

In the past decade, the largest subgroup of lung cancer, i.e. non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), has been subjected to exerted research for a better understanding of the underlying molecular biology of lung cancer. More than ten years ago, CD24 has already been suggested as a novel and promising biomarker for carcinoma progression in NSCLC [3] and several groups have confirmed this finding on protein and transcript level [2, 4]. CD24 is a highly glycosylated protein, that binds to the cell surface through a GPI (glycosyl-phosphatidylinositol)-anchor and functions as a cell adhesion molecule and is involved in cell-cell-interaction via its P-selectin binding site [5]. CD24 has been found to be expressed by pre-B-lymphocytes [5]. It is assumed that CD24-positive cells can attach more easily to platelets and activated endothelial cells [6, 7]. Notably, CD24 has also been observed in many human carcinomas, such as ovarian cancer, renal cell cancer, breast cancer and NSCLC [3, 812]. In epithelial ovarian cancer high scores of cytoplasmic CD24 were highly predictive of shorter patient survival times (mean 97.8 vs. 36.5 months), whereas membranous CD24 expression seemed to have no influence on survival times. Interestingly, CD24 positivity (membranous or cytoplasmic) of prostate cancer samples was significantly associated to younger patient age and higher pT stages and a higher 3-year prostate-specific antigen (PSA) relapse rate compared with CD24-negative tumours.

In patients with gallbladder carcinoma, tumors with up-regulation of CD24 revealed lymph node metastasis and lymphovascular invasion more frequently. Moreover, up-regulation of CD24 tended to show deeper invasion depth and higher TNM stage [13]. Together, these findings support CD24 as a prognostic marker for carcinoma progression and poorer survival.

Despite these intriguing findings, major concerns regarding a lack of epitope specificity of the commonly used monoclonal antibody SN3b have been raised [14]. Recent findings indicate that the mAb (monoclonal antibody) SN3b does not bind to the protein core itself, but binds to a glycan structure that decorates the CD24 molecule. On the one hand, this motif is not present on all forms of CD24 and—on the other hand—it can be present in other epitopes irrespective of CD24 [14]. These limitations underline the need for more specific CD24 antibodies, such as the mAb SWA11 antibody that has been suggested to be more specific as it binds to the protein core [14].

As CD24 is a promising biomarker for the risk assessment of disease progression, the goal of the present study was to investigate CD24 expression in NSCLC using the novel, more specific monoclonal antibody (mAb) SWA11. Special emphasis was put on the comparison of SN3b- and SWA11-mediated CD24 detection regarding a) the subcellular distribution of CD24 expression (i.e. membranous versus cytoplasmic expression) and b) its correlation with various clinicopathological features including patient survival times.

Table 1

Clinicopathological characteristics of the NSCLC cohort

N (%) N (%)
Tumour stage (pT)
1 29 (21.2 %) 5 (3.6)
2 51 (37.2 %) 23 (16.8 %)
3 6 (4.4 %) 6 (4.4 %)
4 1 (0.7 %) 0 (0 %)
Nodal Status (pN) 0 37 (27.0 %) 15 (10.9 %)
1 15 (10.9 %) 9 (6.6 %)
2 14 (10.2 %) 3 (2.2 %)
3 1 (0.7 %) 0 (0.0 %)
Grading (G) 1 5 (3.6 %) 0 (0.0 %)
2 41 (29.9 %) 16 (11.6 %)
3 44 (32.1 %) 17 (12.4 %)
Mean age at surgery 64,2 64,56
(median age) (65) (67)
Sex (m:w) 68:34 30:5
Median OS (months) 52 24
(SD; 95 % CI [months]) (±23.7; 5.5– 98.5) (± 12.8;0.0– 49.0)


Immunohistochemical detection of CD24 expression using clone SWA11 and SN3b

Using the mAb SWA11, 47 of 137 (34.3 %) NSCLC revealed CD24 expression (either cytoplasmic or membranous) (Table 2). CD24 expression was observed more frequently in adenocarcinomas (AC) than in squamous cell carcinomas (SCC). In AC cytoplasmic expression was observed more frequently than membranous expression. In SCC, both cyptoplasmic and membranous expression was rare. Normal lung parenchyma (i.e. alveolar surface cells) showed no expression of CD24. Bronchial epithelium showed a strong membranous and cytoplasmic staining of the brush border (Fig. 1).

Table 2

Cytoplasmic and membranous expression of CD24

SWA11 (mAb clone) SN3b (mAB clone)
Cytoplasmic N (%) N (%) Cytoplasmic N (%) N (%)
0 45 (32.6 %) 19 (13.8 %) 0 76 (55.1 %) 31 (22.5 %)
1 22 (15.9 %) 8 (5.8 %) 1 12 (8.7 %) 1 (0.7 %)
2 17 (12.3 %) 4 (2.9 %) 2 7 (5.1 %) 2 (1.4 %)
3 18 (13.0 %) 4 (2.9 %) 3 1 (0.7 %) 0 (0 %)
Membranous N (%) N (%) Membranous N (%) N (%)
0 68 (49.3 %) 21 (15.2 %) 0 64 (46.4 %) 30 (21.7 %)
1 21 (15.2 %) 5 (3.6 %) 1 10 (7.2 %) 2 (1.4 %)
2 8 (5.8 %) 4 (2.9 %) 2 12 (8.7 %) 2 1.4 %)
3 5 (3.6 %) 5 (3.6 %) 3 10 (7.2 %) 0 (0 %)

Staining intensities are determined as follows:

0: negative or equivocal, 1: weak, 2: moderate and 3: strong CD24 staining

Fig 1

The immunohistochemical characterization reveals membranous and/or cytoplasmic CD24 (mAb SWA11) expression. Strong cytoplasmic CD24 expression is found in a proportion of both AC (a) and SCC (b, d) specimens. Membranous CD24 expression can be pronounced with only scant or even absent cytoplasmic staining as shown in the AC (c). Also, both membranous and cytoplasmic CD24 detection can be found in some instances (d), the insert is showing the corresponding squamous carcinoma in-situ with membranous staining. Simultaneous membranous and cytoplasmic CD24 expression is also found in AC specimens (e, f). In normal tissue, alveolar epithelial cells do not express CD24 (g), whereas CD24 staining is found at the apical cell membrane of bronchial respiratory epithelia (h)

Using the mAb SN3b, 29 of 137 (21.2 %) NSCLC revealed CD24 expression (either cytoplasmic or membranous) (Table 2). As above, CD24 expression was observed more frequently in adenocarcinomas (AC) than in squamous cell carcinomas (SCC). However, in contrast to mAb SWA11 cytoplasmic expression was observed less frequently than membranous expression in AC. In SCC, both cytoplasmic and membranous expression was rare. Normal lung parenchyma (i.e. alveolar surface cells) showed a distinct membranous immunoreactivity. Bronchial epithelium revealed both membranous and cytoplasmic staining of CD24.

Correlation between SWA11 and SN3b: As SWA11 and SN3b detect different epitopes, we evaluated the correlation of the immunohistochemical staining patterns. Of 132 NSCLC specimens with matched expression data, only 9 specimens (6.8 %) revealed a concordant CD24 expression. Of these cases, 4 cases revealed a concordant cytoplasmic staining and another 5 cases revealed a concordant membranous CD24 expression. Statistically, no significant correlation between the two mAb could be observed (cc = −0.63, p = 0.470; Fisher’s exact test p = 0.665). The correlation of cytoplasmic and membranous expression (for each antibody) was as follows: cc = 0.475 (p < 0.05) for SWA11 (n = 108) and cc = 0.140 (p = 0.11) for SN3b (n = 103).

Survival analyses

Recent studies indicate that CD24 expression is associated with tumor progression and poorer survival rates. Therefore, we performed follow up analyses with a special emphasis on 1) the prognostic value of mAb SWA11 in dependence on subcellular staining characteristics and 2) the prognostic values of different clinicopathological parameters:

Prognostic value of CD24 in Kaplan Meier Analyses

Only membranous CD24 (SWA11) staining revealed significantly poorer survival rates (median overall survival 21 vs. 52 months; p = 0.005) as illustrated in Fig. 2. In contrast, cytoplasmic CD24 (SWA11) staining did not affect the survival rates (median OS 34 vs. 35 months; p = 0.884) (Table 3). When stratifying the cohort into SCC (n = 35) and AC (n = 102) in Kaplan Meier analyses, membranous CD24 (SWA11) expression did not affect patients’ survival, neither in SCC (p = 0.243) nor AC (p = 0.135) (Table 3), probably due to the small number of observations (Fisher exact test: p > 0.05). After stratification for AC subtypes, membranous CD24 expression (SWA11) showed a tendency towards an association with poorer survival in acinar subtype AC, but failed significance (p = 0.328).

Fig 2

Survival analysis. Kaplan-Meier curves according to SWA11 expression. Cases with moderate to strong expression were bundled in a ‘high expression’ and cases with negative or weak expression in a ‘low expression’ group. Membranous expression of CD24 detected by SWA11 proved to be an independent marker for shorter survival times in NSCLC (p = 0.005)

Table 3

Univariate survival analysis

SWA11 No. of cases Mean survival time Median survival time p-value
(months +/− s.e.) (months +/− s.e.)
Mem CD24
Negative 76 84.833 +/− 10.395 52.000 +/− 27.030 0.005
Positive 16 27.925 +/− 6.379 21.000 +/− 4.000
Cyto CD24
Negative 66 75.209 +/− 10.577 35.000 +/− 12.422 0.884
Positive 26 60.540 +/− 11.551 34.000 +/− 12.196
Total CD24
Negative 64 76.972 +/− 10.841 35.000 +/− 13.726 0.633
Positive 28 57.535 +/− 10.895 34.000 +/− 9.303
Mem CD24 negative 16 52.063 +/− 14.668 16.000 +/− 16.000 0.243
Mem CD24 positive 7 21.571 +/− 7.201 24.000 +/− 23.568
Mem CD24 negative 59 88.953 +/− 11.631 56.000 +/− 22.885 0.135
Mem CD24 positive 8 39.167 +/− 11.674 21.000 +/− 8.485
pN0 31 103.641 +/− 14.940 93.000 +/− 28.224 0.012
pN1+ 30 54.911 +/− 10.646 26.000 +/− 0.983



Univariate survival analysis according to the Cox regression model (mAb SWA11)

  Beta HR (hazard ratio) 95 % CI of HR P-value
SWA11 mem all 0.856 2.353 1.268–4.364 0.007
pN 0.963 2.620 1.389–4.943 0.003
pT 0.844 2.325 1.279–4.224 0.006
Tumour type 0.975 2.651 1.999–3.517 0.000

Table 5

Multivariate survival analysis according to the Cox regression model (mAb SWA11)

  Beta HR (hazard ratio) 95 % CI of HR P-value
SWA11 mem all 0.944 2.571 1.211–5.458 0.014
pN 0.737 2.091 1.087–4.021 0.027
pT 0.587 1.799 0.755–4.283 0.185



In the present study, we have analyzed immunohistochemical staining characteristics and the prognostic value of CD24 expression in NSCLC with a special emphasis on the comparison of the CD24 antibodies SWA11 and SN3b. The most important result of our study is that the prognostic relevance of CD24 is critically dependent on the careful consideration of sub-cellular compartments and the epitope specificity of the antibody used.

Overall, about one third of the NSCLC cohort revealed a significant CD24 expression (either cytoplasmic or membranous). These results are in line with the findings of other studies. In another NSCLC cohort, CD24 (SN3b) expression was found in 33 % of the samples (87 of 267 cases) [2]. Consistent with those results, we have found similar rates of high CD24 expression levels (35 % of the cases) for SWA11. Originally, we would have expected lower rates than those found by Lee et al, as they used the antibody SN3b, that also recognizes yet unidentified other glycoproteins next to CD24. Furthermore, they used whole mount sections instead of tissue microarrays. A possible explanation for rather equal detection rates would be the fact that it has been demonstrated that the epitope recognized by SN3b is indeed present in CD24, but is not found in all glycoforms of CD24 [14]. In contrast to the commonly used mAb SN3b, mAb SWA11 binds to the protein core of CD24 and does not depict other glycan moieties next to CD24. The protein core of CD24 is linear, consisting of the amino acid sequence leucine-proline-alanine (LAP) next to a glycosyl-phosphatidylinositol anchor [15].

CD24 expression has been associated with disease progression and cancer-related death in the majority of malignant tumors [2, 3, 16, 17], although a caveat to these data is that most of these studies are based on the supposedly less specific CD24 clone SN3b. Lee et al demonstrated a significant association between CD24-high expression (SN3b) and shorter patient survival times. Furthermore, Lee and colleagues and ourselves in former studies referred the results to cytoplasmic CD24 expression [2, 3].

Switching Off Cancers’ Ability to Spread

A key molecule in breast and lung cancer cells can help switch off the cancers’ ability to spread around the body.

The findings by researchers at Imperial College London, published in the journal EMBO Reports, may help scientists develop treatments that prevent cancer travelling around the body – or produce some kind of test that allows doctors to gauge how likely a cancer is to spread. During tumour growth, cancer cells can break off and travel in the bloodstream or lymph system to other parts of the body, in a process called metastasis.

Patients whose cancers spread tend to have a worse prognosis, explains Professor Justin Stebbing, senior author of the study from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial: “The ability of a cancer to spread around the body has a large impact on a patient’s survival. However, at the moment we are still in the dark about why some cancers spread around the body – while others stay in one place. This study has given important insights into this process.”

The researchers were looking at breast and lung cancer cells and they found that a protein called MARK4 enables the cells to break free and move around to other parts of the body, such as the brain and liver. Although scientist are still unsure how it does this, one theory is it affects the cell’s internal scaffolding, enabling it to move more easily around the body. The team found that a molecule called miR-515-5p helps to silence, or switch off, the gene that produces MARK4.

In the study, the team used human breast cancer and lung cancer cells to show that the miR-515-5p molecule silences the gene MARK4. They then confirmed this in mouse models, which showed that increasing the amount of miR-515-5p prevents the spread of cancer cells. The findings also revealed that the silencer molecule was found in lower levels in human tumours that had spread around the body. The team then also established that patients with breast and lung cancers whose tumours had low amounts of these silencer molecules – or high amounts of MARK4 – had lower survival rates.

Researchers are now investigating whether either the MARK4 gene or the silencer molecule could be targeted with drugs. They are also investigating whether these molecules could be used to develop a test to indicate whether a patient’s cancer is likely to spread. Professor Stebbing said: “In our work we have shown that this silencer molecule is important in the spread of cancer. This is very early stage research, so we now need more studies to find out more about this molecule, and if it is present in other types of cancer.”

Dr Olivier Pardo, lead author of the paper, also from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial, added: “Our work also identified that MARK4 enables breast and lung cancer cells to both divide and invade other parts of the body. These findings could have profound implications for treating breast and lung cancers, two of the biggest cancer killers worldwide.” The study was supported by the NIHR Imperial Biomedical Research Centre, the Medical Research Council, Action Against Cancer and the Cancer Treatment and Research Trust.


‘Silencer molecules’ switch off cancer’s ability to spread around body

by Kate Wighton

main image

Scientists have revealed that a key molecule in breast and lung cancer cells can help switch off the cancers’ ability to spread around the body

The findings by researchers at Imperial College London, published in the journal EMBO Reports, may help scientists develop treatments that prevent cancer travelling around the body – or produce some kind of test that allows doctors to gauge how likely a cancer is to spread.

During tumour growth, cancer cells can break off and travel in the bloodstream or lymph system to other parts of the body, in a process called metastasis.

Patients whose cancers spread tend to have a worse prognosis, explains Professor Justin Stebbing, senior author of the study from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial: “The ability of a cancer to spread around the body has a large impact on a patient’s survival. However, at the moment we are still in the dark about why some cancers spread around the body – while others stay in one place. This study has given important insights into this process.”

The researchers were looking at breast and lung cancer cells and they found that a protein called MARK4 enables the cells to break free and move around to other parts of the body, such as the brain and liver. Although scientist are still unsure how it does this, one theory is it affects the cell’s internal scaffolding, enabling it to move more easily around the body.


miR‐515‐5p controls cancer cell migration through MARK4 regulation

Olivier E Pardo, Leandro Castellano, Catriona E Munro, Yili Hu, Francesco Mauri,Jonathan Krell, Romain Lara, Filipa G Pinho, Thameenah Choudhury, Adam EFrampton, Loredana Pellegrino, Dmitry Pshezhetskiy, Yulan Wang, JonathanWaxman, Michael J Seckl, Justin Stebbing    

EMBO reports
Here, we show that miR‐515‐5p inhibits cancer cell migration and metastasis. RNA‐seq analyses of both oestrogen receptor receptor‐positive and receptor‐negative breast cancer cells overexpressing miR‐515‐5p reveal down‐regulation of NRAS, FZD4, CDC42BPA, PIK3C2B and MARK4 mRNAs. We demonstrate that miR‐515‐5p inhibits MARK4 directly 3′ UTR interaction and that MARK4 knock‐down mimics the effect of miR‐515‐5p on breast and lung cancer cell migration. MARK4 overexpression rescues the inhibitory effects of miR‐515‐5p, suggesting miR‐515‐5p mediates this process through MARK4 down‐regulation. Furthermore, miR‐515‐5p expression is reduced in metastases compared to primary tumours derived from both in vivo xenografts and samples from patients with breast cancer. Conversely, miR‐515‐5p overexpression prevents tumour cell dissemination in a mouse metastatic model. Moreover, high miR‐515‐5p and low MARK4 expression correlate with increased breast and lung cancer patients’ survival, respectively. Taken together, these data demonstrate the importance of miR‐515‐5p/MARK4 regulation in cell migration and metastasis across two common cancers.
Embedded Image

miR‐515‐5p inhibits cancer progression, cell migration and metastasis through its direct target MARK4, a regulator of the cytoskeleton and cell motility. Moreover, reduced miR‐515‐5p and increased MARK4 levels in metastatic lung and breast cancer correlate with poor patient prognosis.

  • MARK4 down‐regulation promotes microtubule polymerisation.

  • Increased cell spreading downstream of miR‐515‐5p overexpression or MARK4 silencing hinders cell motility and invasiveness.

  • miR‐515‐5p overexpression or MARK4 silencing prevent organ colonisation by circulating tumour cells.

  • MARK4 inhibitors may represent novel therapeutic agents to control cancer dissemination.breasat cancer


Liquid Biopsy for NSCLC

‘Liquid biopsy’ blood test accurately detects key genetic mutations in most common form of lung cancer, study finds.

A simple blood test can rapidly and accurately detect mutations in two key genes in non-small cell lung tumors, researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and other institutions report in a new study – demonstrating the test’s potential as a clinical tool for identifying patients who can benefit from drugs targeting those mutations.

The test, known as a liquid biopsy, proved so reliable in the study that Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC) expects to offer it soon to all patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), either at the time of first diagnosis or of relapse following previous treatment.

NSCLC is the most common form of lung cancer, diagnosed in more than 200,000 people in the United States each year, according to the American Cancer Society. An estimated 30 percent of NSCLC patients have mutations in either of the genes included in the study, and can often be treated with targeted therapies. The study is being published online today by the journal JAMA Oncology.

The liquid biopsy tested in the study – technically known as rapid plasma genotyping – involves taking a test tube-full of blood, which contains free-floating DNA from cancer cells, and analyzing that DNA for mutations or other abnormalities. (When tumor cells die, their DNA spills into the bloodstream, where it’s known as cell-free DNA.) The technique, which provides a “snapshot” of key genetic irregularities in a tumor, is a common tool in research for probing the molecular make-up of different kinds of cancers.

“We see plasma genotyping as having enormous potential as a clinical test, or assay – a rapid, noninvasive way of screening a cancer for common genetic fingerprints, while avoiding the challenges of traditional invasive biopsies,” said the senior author of the study, Geoffrey Oxnard, MD, thoracic oncologist and lung cancer researcher at Dana-Farber and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Our study was the first to demonstrate prospectively that a liquid biopsy technique can be a practical tool for making treatment decisions in cancer patients. The trial was such a success that we are transitioning the assay into a clinical test for lung cancer patients at DF/BWCC.”

The study involved 180 patients with NSCLC, 120 of whom were newly diagnosed, and 60 of whom had become resistant to a previous treatment, allowing the disease to recur. Participants’ cell-free DNA was tested for mutations in the EGFR and KRAS genes, and for a separate mutation in EGFR that allows tumor cells to become resistant to front-line targeted drugs. The test was performed with a technique known as droplet digital polymerase chain reaction (ddPCR), which counts the individual letters of the genetic code in cell-free DNA to determine if specific mutations are present. Each participant also underwent a conventional tissue biopsy to test for the same mutations. The results of the liquid biopsies were then compared to those of the tissue biopsies.

The data showed that liquid biopsies returned results much more quickly. The median turnaround time for liquid biopsies was three days, compared to 12 days for tissue biopsies in newly diagnosed patients and 27 days in drug-resistant patients.

Liquid biopsy was also found to be highly accurate. In newly diagnosed patients, the “predictive value” of plasma ddPCR was 100 percent for the primary EGFR mutation and the KRAS mutation – meaning that a patient who tested positive for either mutation was certain to have that mutation in his or her tumor. For patients with the EGFR resistance mutation, the predictive value of the ddPCR test was 79 percent, suggesting the blood test was able to find additional cases with the mutation that were missed using standard biopsies.

“In some patients with the EGFR resistance mutation, ddPCR detected mutations missed by standard tissue biopsy,” Oxnard remarked. “A resistant tumor is inherently made up of multiple subsets of cells, some of which carry different patterns of genetic mutations. A single biopsy is only analyzing a single part of the tumor, and may miss a mutation present elsewhere in the body. A liquid biopsy, in contrast, may better reflect the distribution of mutations in the tumor as a whole.”

When ddPCR failed to detect these mutations, the cause was less clear-cut, Oxnard says. It could indicate that the tumor cells don’t carry the mutations or, alternatively, that the tumor isn’t shedding its DNA into the bloodstream. This discrepancy between the test results and the presence of mutations was less common in patients whose cancer had metastasized to multiple sites in the body, researchers found.

The ddPCR-based test, or assay, was piloted and optimized for patients at the Translational Resarch lab of the Belfer Center for Applied Cancer Science at Dana-Farber. It was then validated for clinical use at Dana-Farber’s Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology.

An advantage of this form of liquid biopsy is that it can help doctors quickly determine whether a patient is responding to therapy. Fifty participants in the study had repeat testing done after starting treatment for their cancer. “Those whose blood tests showed a disappearance of the mutations within two weeks were more likely to stay on the treatment than patients who didn’t see such a reduction,” said the study’s lead author, Adrian Sacher, MD, of Dana-Farber and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

And because tumors are constantly evolving and acquiring additional mutations, repeated liquid biopsies can provide early detection of a new mutation – such as the EGFR resistance mutation – that can potentially be treated with targeted agents.

“The study data are compelling,” said DF/BWCC pathologist Lynette Sholl, MD, explaining the center’s decision to begin offering ddPCR-based liquid biopsy to all lung cancer patients. “We validated the authors’ findings by cross-comparing results from liquid and tissue biopsies in 34 NSCLC patients. To work as a real-world clinical test, liquid biopsy needs to provide reliable, accurate data and be logistically practical. That’s what we’ve seen with the ddPCR-based blood test.

“The test has great utility both for patients newly diagnosed with NSCLC and for those with a recurrence of the disease,” she continued. “It’s fast, it’s quantitative (it indicates the amount of mutant DNA in a sample), and it can be readily employed at a cancer treatment center.”

The co-authors of the study are Cloud Paweletz, PhD, Allison O’Connell, BSc, and Nora Feeney, BSc, of the Belfer Center for Applied Cancer Science at Dana-Farber; Ryan S. Alden BSc, and Stacy L. Mach BA, of Dana-Farber; Suzanne E. Dahlberg, PhD, of Dana-Farber and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; and Pasi A. Jänne, MD, PhD, of Dana-Farber, the Belfer Center, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

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Inflammatory Disorders: Articles published @

Curators: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

This is a compilation of articles on Inflammatory Disorders that were published 

@, since 4/2012 to date

There are published works that have not been included.  However, there is a substantial amount of material in the following categories:

  1. The systemic inflammatory response
  2. sepsis
  3. vasculitis
  4. neurodegenerative disease
  5. cancer immunology
  6. autoimmune diseases: rheumatoid arthritis, colitis, ileitis, …
  7. T cells in immunity

Proteomics, metabolomics and diabetes




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Neutrophil Serine Proteases in Disease and Therapeutic Considerations

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator



SERPINB1 Regulates the activity of the neutrophil proteases elastase, cathepsin G, proteinase-3, chymase,
chymotrypsin, and kallikrein-3. Belongs to the serpin family. Ov-serpin subfamily. Note: This description may
include information from UniProtKB.
Chromosomal Location of Human Ortholog: 6p25
Cellular Component: extracellular space; membrane; cytoplasm
Molecular Function: serine-type endopeptidase inhibitor activity
Reference #:  P30740 (UniProtKB)
Alt. Names/Synonyms: anti-elastase; EI; ELANH2; ILEU; LEI; Leukocyte elastase inhibitor; M/NEI; MNEI; Monocyte/neutrophil elastase inhibitor; Peptidase inhibitor 2; PI-2; PI2; protease inhibitor 2 (anti-elastase), monocyte/neutrophil derived; serine (or cysteine) proteinase inhibitor, clade B (ovalbumin), member 1; Serpin B1; serpin peptidase inhibitor, clade B (ovalbumin), member 1; SERPINB1
Gene Symbols: SERPINB1
Molecular weight: 42,742 Da


Alternative titles; symbols
HGNC Approved Gene Symbol: SERPINB1
Cloning and Expression
Monocyte/neutrophil elastase inhibitor (EI) is a protein of approximately 42,000 Mr with serpin-like functional properties.
Remold-O’Donnell et al. (1992) cloned EI cDNA and identified 3 EI mRNA species of 1.5, 1.9, and 2.6 kb in monocyte-like cells
and no hybridizing mRNA in lymphoblastoid cells lacking detectable EI enzymatic activity. The cDNA open reading frame encoded
a 379-amino acid protein. Its sequence established EI as a member of the serpin superfamily. Sequence alignment indicated that
the reactive center P1 residue is cys-344, consistent with abrogation of elastase inhibitory activity by iodoacetamide and making
EI a naturally occurring cys-serpin.



In the course of studying 4 closely linked genes encoding members of the ovalbumin family of serine proteinase inhibitors
(Ov-serpins) located on 18q21.3, Schneider et al. (1995) investigated the mapping of elastase inhibitor. They prepared PCR
primer sets of the gene, and by using the NIGMS monochromosomal somatic cell hybrid panel, showed that the EI gene maps
to chromosome 6.

By amplifying DNA of a somatic cell hybrid panel, Evans et al. (1995) unambiguously localized ELANH2 to chromosome 6.
With the use of a panel of radiation and somatic cell hybrids specific for chromosome 6, they refined the localization to
the short arm telomeric of D6S89, F13A (134570), and D6S202 at 6pter-p24.



Evans, E., Cooley, J., Remold-O’Donnell, E. Characterization and chromosomal localization of ELANH2, the gene encoding human
monocyte/neutrophil elastase inhibitor. Genomics 28: 235-240, 1995. [PubMed: 8530031related citations] [Full Text]
Remold-O’Donnell, E., Chin, J., Alberts, M. Sequence and molecular characterization of human monocyte/neutrophil elastase inhibitor.
Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 89: 5635-5639, 1992. [PubMed: 1376927related citations][Full Text]
Schneider, S. S., Schick, C., Fish, K. E., Miller, E., Pena, J. C., Treter, S. D., Hui, S. M., Silverman, G. A. A serine proteinase inhibitor locus at
18q21.3 contains a tandem duplication of the human squamous cell carcinoma antigen gene. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 92: 3147-3151, 1995.
[PubMed: 7724531,related citations] [Full Text]


Leukocyte elastase inhibitor (serpin B1) (IPR015557)

Short name: Serpin_B1

Family relationships

  • Serpin family (IPR000215)
    • Leukocyte elastase inhibitor (serpin B1) (IPR015557)


Leukocyte elastase inhibitor is also known as serpin B1. Serpins (SERine Proteinase INhibitors) belong to MEROPS inhibitor family I4 (clan ID)
[PMID: 14705960].

Serpin B1 regulates the activity of neutrophil serine proteases such as elastase, cathepsin G and proteinase-3 and may play a regulatory role to
limit inflammatory damage due to proteases of cellular origin [PMID: 11747453]. It also functions as a potent intracellular inhibitor of granzyme
H [PMID: 23269243]. In mouse, four different homologues of human serpin B1 have been described [PMID: 12189154].


The neutrophil serine protease inhibitor SerpinB1 protects against inflammatory lung injury and morbidity in influenza virus infection

Dapeng Gong1,2, Charaf Benarafa1,2, Kevan L Hartshorn3 and Eileen Remold-O’Donnell1,2
J Immunol April 2009; 182(Meeting Abstract Supplement) 43.10

SerpinB1 is an efficient inhibitor of neutrophil serine proteases. SerpinB1-/- mice fail to clear bacterial lung infection with increased inflammation and neutrophil death. Here, we investigated the role of serpinB1 in influenza virus infection, where infiltrating neutrophils and monocytes facilitate virus clearance but can also cause tissue injury. Influenza virus (H3N2 A/Phil/82) infection caused greater and more protracted body weight loss in serpinB1-/- vs. WT mice (20% vs. 15%; nadir on day 4 vs. day 3). Increased morbidity was not associated with defective virus clearance. Cytokines (IFN, TNF, IL-17, IFN, G-CSF) and chemokines (MIP-1, KC, MIP-2) were increased in serpinB1-/- mice vs. WT on days 2-7 post-infection but not on day 1. In WT mice, histology indicated large infiltration of neutrophils peaking on day 1 and maximal airway injury on day 2 that resolved on day 3 coincident with the influx of monocytes/macrophages. In serpinB1-/- mice, neutrophils also peaked on day 1; epithelial injury was severe and sustained with accumulation of dead cells on day 2 and 3. Immunophenotyping of lung digests on day 2 and 3 showed delayed recruitment of monocytes, macrophages and DC in serpinB1-/- mice, but increase of activated CD4 (day 2-3) and CD8 (day 3) T cells. Our findings demonstrate that serpinB1 protects against morbidity and inflammatory lung injury associated with influenza infection.


The neutrophil serine protease inhibitor serpinb1 preserves lung defense functions in Pseudomonas aeruginosainfection

Charaf Benarafa 1 , 2 Gregory P. Priebe 3 , 4 , and Eileen Remold-O’Donnell 1 , 2
JEM July 30, 2007; 204(8): 1901-1909

Neutrophil serine proteases (NSPs; elastase, cathepsin G, and proteinase-3) directly kill invading microbes. However, excess NSPs in the lungs play a central role in the pathology of inflammatory pulmonary disease. We show that serpinb1, an efficient inhibitor of the three NSPs, preserves cell and molecular components responsible for host defense against Pseudomonas aeruginosa. On infection, wild-type (WT) and serpinb1-deficient mice mount similar early responses, including robust production of cytokines and chemokines, recruitment of neutrophils, and initial containment of bacteria. However, serpinb1−/− mice have considerably increased mortality relative to WT mice in association with late-onset failed bacterial clearance. We found that serpinb1-deficient neutrophils recruited to the lungs have an intrinsic defect in survival accompanied by release of neutrophil protease activity, sustained inflammatory cytokine production, and proteolysis of the collectin surfactant protein–D (SP-D). Coadministration of recombinant SERPINB1 with the P. aeruginosa inoculum normalized bacterial clearance inserpinb1−/− mice. Thus, regulation of pulmonary innate immunity by serpinb1 is nonredundant and is required to protect two key components, the neutrophil and SP-D, from NSP damage during the host response to infection.


Neutrophils are the first and most abundant phagocytes mobilized to clear pathogenic bacteria during acute lung infection. Prominent among their antimicrobial weapons, neutrophils carry high concentrations of a unique set of serine proteases in their granules, including neu trophil elastase (NE), cathepsin G (CG), and proteinase-3. These neutrophil serine proteases (NSPs) are required to kill phagocytosed bacteria and fungi (12). Indeed, neutrophils lacking NE fail to kill phagocytosed pathogens, and mice deficient for NE and/or CG have increased mortality after infection with pulmonary pathogens (34). However, NSPs in the lung airspace can have a detrimental effect in severe inflammatory lung disease through degradation of host defense and matrix proteins (57). Thus, understanding of the mechanisms that regulate NSP actions during lung infections associated with neutrophilia will help identify strategies to balance host defense and prevent infection-induced tissue injury.


SERPINB1, also known as monocyte NE inhibitor (8), is an ancestral serpin super-family protein and one of the most efficient inhibitors of NE, CG, and proteinase-3 (910). SERPINB1 is broadly expressed and is at particularly high levels in the cytoplasm of neutrophils (1112). SERPINB1 has been found complexed to neutro phil proteases in lung fluids of cystic fibrosis patients and in a baboon model of bronchopulmonary dysplasia (1314). Although these studies suggest a role for SERPINB1 in regulating NSP activity, it is unclear whether these complexes reflect an important physiological role for SERPINB1 in the lung air space.


To define the physiological importance of SERPINB1 in shaping the outcome of bacterial lung infection, we generated mice deficient for serpinb1 (serpinb1−/−) by targeted mutagenesis in embryonic stem (ES) cells (Fig. 1, A–C). Crossings of heterozygous mice produced WT (+/+), heterozygous (+/−), and KO (−/−) mice for serpinb1 at expected Mendelian ratios (25% +/+, 51% +/−, and 24% −/−; n = 225; Fig. 1 D), indicating no embryonic lethality. Bone marrow neutrophils of serpinb1−/− mice lacked expression of the protein, whereas heterozygous serpinb1+/− mice had reduced levels compared with WT mice (Fig. 1 E). Importantly, levels of the cognate neutrophil proteases NE and CG, measured as antigenic units, were not altered by deletion of serpinb1 (Fig. 1 F). When maintained in a specific pathogen-free environment, serpinb1−/− mice did not differ from WT littermates in growth, litter size, or life span (followed up to 12 mo), and no gross or histopathological defects were observed at necropsy in 8-wk-old mice.

6–8-wk-old animals were intranasally inoculated with the nonmucoid Pseudomonas aeruginosa strain PAO1. Using two infection doses (3 × 106 and 7 × 106 CFU/mouse),serpinb1−/− mice had a significantly lower survival probability and a shorter median survival time compared with WT mice (Fig. 2 A). Further groups of infected mice were used to evaluate bacterial clearance. At 6 h after infection, the bacteria were similarly restricted in mice of the two genotypes, suggesting that the serpinb1−/− mice have a normal initial response to infection. At 24 h, the median bacterial count in the lungs of serpinb1−/− mice was five logs higher than that of the WT mice (P < 0.001), and the infection had spread systemically in serpinb1−/− mice but not in WT mice, as shown by high median CFU counts in the spleen (Fig. 2 B). Histological examination at 24 h after infection revealed abundant neutrophil infiltration in the lungs of both WT and serpinb1−/− mice, and consistent with the bacteriological findings, numerous foci of bacterial colonies and large areas of alveolar exudates were found in serpinb1−/− mice only (Fig. 2 C). When challenged with the mucoid P. aeruginosa clinical strain PA M57-15 isolated from a cystic fibrosis patient, WT mice cleared >99.9% of the inoculum within 24 h, whereas serpinb1-deficient mice failed to clear the infection (Fig. 2 D). Thus, the NSP inhibitor serpinb1 is essential for maximal protection against pneumonia induced by mucoid and nonmucoid strains of P. aeruginosa.

Figure 2.

Serpinb1−/− mice fail to clear P. aeruginosalung infection. (A) Kaplan-Meier survival curves of WT (+/+) and serpinb1-deficient (−/−) mice intranasally inoculated with nonmucoid P. aeruginosa strain PAO1. Increased mortality of serpinb1−/− mice was statistically significant (P = 0.03 at 3 × 106CFU/mouse; P < 0.0001 at 7 × 106CFU/mouse). (B) CFUs per milligram of lung (left) and splenic (right) tissue determined 6 and 24 h after inoculation with 3 × 106 CFUP. aeruginosa PAO1 in WT (+/+, filled circles) and serpinb1−/− (−/−, open circles) mice. Each symbol represents a value for an individual mouse. Differences between median values (horizontal lines) were analyzed by the Mann-Whitney U test. Data below the limit of detection (dotted line) are plotted as 0.5 CFU × dilution factor. (C) Lung sections stained with hematoxylin and eosin show bacterial colonies (arrowheads) and alveolar exudate in lungs of serpinb1−/− mice 24 h after infection with P. aeruginosa PAO1. Bars, 50 μm. (D) Total CFUs in the lung and spleen 24 h after inoculation with 2 × 108 CFU of the mucoid P. aeruginosa strain PA M57-15 in WT (+/+, filled circles) and serpinb1−/− (−/−, open circles) mice. Differences between median values (horizontal lines) were analyzed by the Mann-Whitney U test.

To verify specificity of the gene deletion, we tested whether delivering rSERPINB1 would correct the defective phenotype. Indeed, intranasal instillation of rSERPINB1 to serpinb1−/− mice at the time of inoculation significantly improved clearance of P. aeruginosa PAO1 from the lungs assessed at 24 h and reduced bacteremia compared with infectedserpinb1−/− mice that received PBS instead of the recombinant protein (Fig. S1 A, available at We have previously demonstrated that rSERPINB1 has no effect on the growth of P. aeruginosa in vitro (15) and does not induce bacterial aggrega tion (16). Also, rSERPINB1 mixed with PAO1 had no effect on adherence of the bacteria to human bronchial epithelial and corneal epithelial cell lines (unpublished data). Therefore, the improved bacterial clearance in treated serpinb1−/− mice is not related to a direct antibacterial role for rSERPINB1 but rather to reducing injury induced by excess neutrophil proteases. In addition, previous in vivo studies in WT rats showed that rSERPINB1 can protect against elastase-induced lung injury (17) and accelerate bacterial clearance two- to threefold in the Pseudomonas agar bead model (15).

Evidence of excess NSP action was examined in the lungs of infected serpinb1−/− mice by measuring surfactant protein–D (SP-D). SP-D, a multimeric collagenous C-type lectin produced by alveolar epithelial cells, is highly relevant as a host defense molecule, because it functions as an opsonin in microbial clearance (18) and acts on alveolar macrophages to regulate pro- and antiinflammatory cytokine production (19). SP-D is also relevant as an NSP target because it is degraded in vitro by trace levels of each of the NSPs (1620). SP-D levels in lung homogenates of WT and serpinb1−/− mice were similar 6 h after P. aeruginosa infection. At 24 h, SP-D levels were reduced in the lungs ofserpinb1−/− mice compared with WT mice, as indicated by immunoblots. A lower molecular mass band indicative of proteolytic degradation is also apparent (Fig. 3 A). Densitometry analysis of the 43-kD SP-D band relative to β-actin indicated that the reduction of SP-D level was statistically significant (+/+, 45 ± 6 [n = 8]; −/−, 10 ± 2 [n = 8]; P < 0.0001 according to the Student’s t test). Furthermore, rSERPINB1 treatment ofP. aeruginosa–infected serpinb1−/− mice partly prevented the degradation of SP-D in lung homogenates compared with nontreated mice (Fig. S1 B). As a further test of the impact of serpinb1 deletion on NSP activity, isolated neutrophils of serpinb1−/− mice were treated with LPS and FMLP and tested for their ability to cleave recombinant rat SP-D (rrSP-D) in vitro. The extent of rrSP-D cleavage by serpinb1−/− neutrophils was fourfold greater than by WT neutrophils, as determined by densitometry. The cleavage was specific for NSPs because it was abrogated by rSERPINB1 and diisopropyl fluorophosphate (Fig. 3 B). Collectively, these findings indicate a direct role for serpinb1 in regulating NSP activity released by neutrophils and in preserving SP-D, an important-host defense molecule.

Efficient clearance of P. aeruginosa infection requires an early cytokine and chemokine response coordinated by both resident alveolar macrophages and lung parenchymal cells (2122). The IL-8 homologue keratinocyte-derived chemokine (KC) and the cytokines TNF-α, IL-1β, and G-CSF were measured in cell-free bronchoalveolar (BAL) samples. Although the tested cytokines were undetectable in sham-infected mice of both genotypes (unpublished data), comparable induc tion of these cytokines was observed in BAL of WT and serpinb1−/− mice at 6 h after infection, demonstrating that there is no early defect in cytokine production in serpinb1−/− mice. At 24 h, levels of TNF-α, KC, and IL-1β were sustained or increased in serpinb1−/− mice and significantly higher than cytokine levels in WT mice. G-CSF levels at 24 h were elevated to a similar extent in BAL of WT and KO mice (Fig. 3 C). However, G-CSF levels were significantly higher in the serum of serpinb1−/− mice (WT, 336 ± 80 ng/ml; KO, 601 ± 13 ng/ml; n = 6 of each genotype; P < 0.01). In addition, serpinb1−/− mice that were treated at the time of infection with rSERPINB1 had cytokine levels in 24-h lung homogenates that were indistinguishable from those of infected WT mice (Fig. S1 C). The increased cytokine production in the lungs of infected serpinb1−/− mice may be caused by failed bacterial clearance but also by excess NSPs, which directly induce cytokine and neutrophil chemokine production in pulmonary parenchymal cells and alveolar macrophages (2324).

Neutrophil recruitment to the lungs was next examined as a pivotal event of the response to P. aeruginosa infection (25). Lung homogenates were assayed for the neutrophil-specific enzyme myeloperoxidase (MPO) to quantify marginating, interstitial, and alveolar neutrophils. Neutrophils in BAL fluid were directly counted as a measure of neutrophil accumulation in the alveolar and airway lumen. MPO in lung homo genates was undetectable in uninfected mice and was comparably increased in mice of both genotypes at 6 h, suggesting normal early serpinb1−/− neutrophil margination and migration into the interstitium. However, by 24 h after infection, MPO levels in lung homogenates remained high in WT mice but were significantly decreased in serpinb1−/− mice (Fig. 4 A). Importantly, the content of MPO per cell was the same for isolated neutrophils of WT andserpinb1−/− mice (+/+, 369 ± 33 mU/106 cells; −/−, 396 ± 27 mU/106 cells). The numbers of neutrophils in BAL were negligible in uninfected mice and were similarly increased in WT and serpinb1−/− mice at 6 h after infection. Neutrophil counts in BAL further increased at 24 h, but the mean BAL neutrophil numbers were significantly lower in serpinb1−/− mice compared with WT mice (Fig. 4 B). The evidence from the 6-h quantitation of MPO in homogenates and neutrophils in BAL strongly suggests that neutrophil recruitment is not defective in infected serpinb1−/− mice. Moreover, the high levels of cytokines and neutrophil chemoattractant KC in serpinb1−/− mice at 24 h (Fig. 3 C) also suggest that, potentially, more neutrophils should be recruited. Therefore, to examine neutrophil recruitment in serpinb1−/− mice, we used a noninfectious model in which neutrophils are mobilized to migrate to the lung after intranasal delivery of P. aeruginosa LPS. MPO levels in lung homogenate and neutrophil numbers in BAL were not statistically different in WT and serpinb1−/− mice 24 h after LPS instillation (Fig. 4, C and D). Furthermore, the number of circulating blood neutrophils and recruited peritoneal neutrophils after injection of sterile irritants glycogen and thioglycollate did not differ in WT and serpinb1−/− mice (unpublished data). Alveolar macrophage numbers were similar in uninfected mice of both genotypes (∼5 × 105 cells/mouse) and did not substantially change upon infection. Collectively, these findings show that neutrophil recruitment to the lungs in response to P. aeruginosa infection is not defective in serpinb1−/− mice, and therefore, the recovery of lower numbers of serpinb1−/− neutrophils at 24 h after infection suggests their decreased survival.

To examine the putative increased death of serpinb1−/− neutrophils in the lungs after P. aeruginosa infection, lung sections were analyzed by immunohistochemistry. Caspase-3–positive leukocytes were more relevant in the alveolar space of serpinb1−/− mice compared with WT mice at 24 h after infection, suggesting increased neutrophil apoptosis (Fig. 5 A). The positive cells were counted in 50 high power fields (hpf’s), and mean numbers of caspase-3–stained cells were increased in the lungs of serpinb1/− mice (1.8 ± 0.2 cells/hpf) compared with WT mice (0.4 ± 0.1 cells/hpf; P < 0.0001). To characterize neutrophils in the alveoli and airways, neutrophils in BAL were identified in flow cytometry by forward scatter (FSC) and side scatter and were stained with annexin V (AnV) and propidium iodide (PI). At 24 h after infection, the proportion of late apoptotic/necrotic neutrophils (AnV+PI+) was increased at the expense of viable neutrophils (AnVPI) in the BAL of serpinb1−/− mice compared with WT mice (Fig. 5 B). Neutrophil fragments in BAL were also identified in flow cytometry by low FSC (FSClow) within the neutrophil population defined by the neutrophil marker Gr-1. The number of neutrophil fragments (FSClow, Gr-1+) relative to intact neutrophils was increased two- to threefold at 24 h after infection for serpinb1−/− compared with WT mice (Fig. 5 C). Moreover, free MPO in BAL supernatants was increased in serpinb1−/− mice compared with WT mice at 24 h after infection, indicating increased PMN lysis or degranulation (Fig. 5 D).

Finally, we questioned whether the enhanced death of serpinb1−/− pulmonary neutrophils was a primary effect of gene deletion or a secondary effect caused by, for example, bacteria or components of inflammation. To address this, neutrophils were collected using the noninfectious LPS recruitment model and were cultured in vitro to allow for spontaneous cell death. After 24 h, the percentages of apoptotic and necrotic neutrophils evaluated by microscopy were increased in serpinb1−/− neutrophils compared with WT neutrophils (Fig. 6, A–C). A similar increase in apoptotic cells was observed using AnV/PI staining and measurements of hypodiploid DNA (unpublished data). Moreover, live cell numbers from serpinb1−/− mice remaining in culture after 24 h were significantly decreased compared with WT mice (Fig. 6 D). The in vitro findings indicate that enhanced death of pulmonary neutrophils of infected serpinb1−/− mice is at least in part a cell-autonomous defect likely mediated by unchecked NSP actions.


In this paper, we have demonstrated that serpinb1, an intracellular serpin family member, regulates the innate immune response and protects the host during lung bacterial infection. Serpinb1 is among the most potent inhibitors of NSPs and is carried at high levels within neutrophils. Serpinb1-deficient mice fail to clear P. aeruginosa PAO1 lung infection and succumb from systemic bacterial spreading. The defective immune function in serpinb1−/− mice stems at least in part from an increased rate of neutrophil necrosis, reducing the number of phagocytes and leading to increased NSP activity in the lungs with proteolysis of SP-D. In addition, serpinb1-deficient mice also have impaired clearance of the mucoid clinical strain PA M57-15. Interestingly, mucoid strains of P. aeruginosa are cleared with a very high efficiency from the lungs of WT and cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator–deficient mice (26). The phenotype of serpinb1−/− mice reproduces major pathologic features of human pulmonary diseases characterized by excessive inflammation, massive neutrophil recruitment to the air space, and destruction of cellular and molecular protective mechanisms. Importantly, serpinb1 deficiency may be helpful as an alternative or additional model of the inflammatory lung pathology of cystic fibrosis.

The present study documents a key protective role for serpinb1 in regulating NSP actions in the lung. This role has previously been attributed to the NSP inhibitors α1-antitrypsin and secretory leukocyte protease inhibitor, which are found in the airway and alveolar lining fluid (2728). However, patients with α1-antitrypsin deficiency do not present with pulmonary infection secondary to innate immune defects despite increased NSP activity that leads to reduced lung elasticity and emphysema. Moreover, there is so far no evidence that deficiency in secretory leukocyte protease inhibitor results in failure to clear pulmonary infection. Because synthesis and storage of NSPs in granules is an event that exclusively takes place in bone marrow promyelocytes (29), the regulation of NSPs in the lung relies entirely on NSP inhibitors. Thus, the extent of the innate immune defect inserpinb1−/− mice and the normalization of bacterial clearance with topical rSERPINB1 treatment indicate that serpinb1 is required to regulate NSP activity in the airway fluids and that, during acute lung infection associated with high neutrophilic recruitment, there is insufficient compensation by other NSP inhibitors. The devastating effects of NSPs when released in the lungs by degranulating and necrotic neutrophils are well documented in human pulmonary diseases (5630). Therefore, our findings clearly establish a physiological and nonredundant role for serpinb1 in regulating NSPs during pulmonary infection.

NSPs also cleave molecules involved in apoptotic cell clearance, including the surfactant protein SP-D and the phosphatidylserine receptor on macrophages (3132), thereby tipping the balance further toward a detrimental outcome. The increased numbers of leukocytes with active caspase-3 in the alveolar space of P. aeruginosa–infectedserpinb1−/− mice suggest that the removal of apoptotic cells may be inadequate during infection. SP-D has been shown to stimulate phagocytosis of P. aeruginosa by alveolar macrophages in vitro (33), and SP-D–deficient mice were found to have defective early (6-h) clearance of P. aeruginosa from the lung (34). Although the destruction of SP-D alone may not entirely account for the defective phenotype of serpinb1−/− mice, loss of SP-D likely diminishes bacterial clearance and removal of apop totic neutrophils.

Given that NSPs also mediate bacterial killing, why would NSP excess lead to a failed bacterial clearance? In the NE KO mice, the decreased killing activity of neutrophils is a direct consequence of the loss of the bactericidal activity of NE. The absence of an early bacterial clearance defect at 6 h after infection in serpinb1−/− mice suggests that there is initially normal bacterial killing. The current understanding is that the compartmentalization of the NSPs is crucial to the outcome of their actions: on the one hand, NSPs are protective when killing microbes within phagosomes, and on the other hand, extracellular NSPs destroy innate immune defense molecules such as lung collectins, immunoglobulins, and complement receptors. We have shown that the regulation of NSP activity is essential and that cytoplasmic serpinb1 provides this crucial shield. Neutrophils undergoing cell death gradually transition from apoptosis, characterized by a nonpermeable plasma membrane, to necrosis and lysis, where cellular and granule contents, including NSPs, are released. The increased pace of serpinb1−/− neutrophil cell death strongly suggests that unopposed NSPs may precipitate neutrophil demise and, therefore, reduce the neutrophil numbers leading to a late-onset innate immune defect. High levels of G-CSF, a prosurvival cytokine for neutrophils, also indicate that increased cell death is likely independent or downstream of G-CSF.

In conclusion, serpinb1 deficiency unleashes unbridled proteolytic activity during inflammation and thereby disables two critical components of the host response to bacterial infection, the neutrophil and the collectin SP-D. The phenotype of the infectedserpinb1-deficient mouse, characterized by a normal early antibacterial response that degenerates over time, highlights the delicate balance of protease–antiprotease systems that protect the host against its own defenses as well as invading microbes during infection-induced inflammation.



Proteinase 3 and neutrophil elastase enhance inflammation in mice by inactivating antiinflammatory progranulin

K Kessenbrock,1 LFröhlich,2 M Sixt,3 …., A Belaaouaj,5 J Ring,6,7 M Ollert,6 R Fässler,3 and DE. Jenne1
J Clin Invest. 2008 Jul 1; 118(7): 2438–2447.

Neutrophil granulocytes form the body’s first line of antibacterial defense, but they also contribute to tissue injury and noninfectious, chronic inflammation. Proteinase 3 (PR3) and neutrophil elastase (NE) are 2 abundant neutrophil serine proteases implicated in antimicrobial defense with overlapping and potentially redundant substrate specificity. Here, we unraveled a cooperative role for PR3 and NE in neutrophil activation and noninfectious inflammation in vivo, which we believe to be novel. Mice lacking both PR3 and NE demonstrated strongly diminished immune complex–mediated (IC-mediated) neutrophil infiltration in vivo as well as reduced activation of isolated neutrophils by ICs in vitro. In contrast, in mice lacking just NE, neutrophil recruitment to ICs was only marginally impaired. The defects in mice lacking both PR3 and NE were directly linked to the accumulation of antiinflammatory progranulin (PGRN). Both PR3 and NE cleaved PGRN in vitro and during neutrophil activation and inflammation in vivo. Local administration of recombinant PGRN potently inhibited neutrophilic inflammation in vivo, demonstrating that PGRN represents a crucial inflammation-suppressing mediator. We conclude that PR3 and NE enhance neutrophil-dependent inflammation by eliminating the local antiinflammatory activity of PGRN. Our results support the use of serine protease inhibitors as antiinflammatory agents.


Neutrophils belong to the body’s first line of cellular defense and respond quickly to tissue injury and invading microorganisms (1). In a variety of human diseases, like autoimmune disorders, infections, or hypersensitivity reactions, the underlying pathogenic mechanism is the formation of antigen-antibody complexes, so-called immune complexes (ICs), which trigger an inflammatory response by inducing the infiltration of neutrophils (2). The subsequent stimulation of neutrophils by C3b-opsonized ICs results in the generation of ROS and the release of intracellularly stored proteases leading to tissue damage and inflammation (3). It is therefore important to identify the mechanisms that control the activation of infiltrating neutrophils.

Neutrophils abundantly express a unique set of neutrophil serine proteases (NSPs), namely cathepsin G (CG), proteinase 3 (PR3; encoded by Prtn3), and neutrophil elastase (NE; encoded by Ela2), which are stored in the cytoplasmic, azurophilic granules. PR3 and NE are closely related enzymes, with overlapping and potentially redundant substrate specificities different from those of CG. All 3 NSPs are implicated in antimicrobial defense by degrading engulfed microorganisms inside the phagolysosomes of neutrophils (48). Among many other functions ascribed to these enzymes, PR3 and NE were also suggested to play a fundamental role in granulocyte development in the bone marrow (911).

While the vast majority of the enzymes is stored intracellularly, minor quantities of PR3 and NE are externalized early during neutrophil activation and remain bound to the cell surface, where they are protected against protease inhibitors (1213). These membrane presented proteases were suggested to act as path clearers for neutrophil migration by degrading components of the extracellular matrix (14). This notion has been addressed in a number of studies, which yielded conflicting results (1517). Thus, the role of PR3 and NE in leukocyte extravasation and interstitial migration still remains controversial.

Emerging data suggest that externalized NSPs can contribute to inflammatory processes in a more complex way than by simple proteolytic tissue degradation (18). For instance, recent observations using mice double-deficient for CG and NE indicate that pericellular CG enhances IC-mediated neutrophil activation and inflammation by modulating integrin clustering on the neutrophil cell surface (1920). Because to our knowledge no Prtn3–/– mice have previously been generated, the role of this NSP in inflammatory processes has not been deciphered. Moreover, NE-dependent functions that can be compensated by PR3 in Ela2–/–animals are still elusive.

One mechanism by which NSPs could upregulate the inflammatory response has recently been proposed. The ubiquitously expressed progranulin (PGRN) is a growth factor implicated in tissue regeneration, tumorigenesis, and inflammation (2123). PGRN was previously shown to directly inhibit adhesion-dependent neutrophil activation by suppressing the production of ROS and the release of neutrophil proteases in vitro (23). This antiinflammatory activity was degraded by NE-mediated proteolysis of PGRN to granulin (GRN) peptides (23). In contrast, GRN peptides may enhance inflammation (23) and have been detected in neutrophil-rich peritoneal exudates (24). In short, recent studies proposed PGRN as a regulator of the innate immune response, but the factors that control PGRN function are still poorly defined and its relevance to inflammation needs to be elucidated in vivo.

In the present study, we generated double-deficient Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– mice to investigate the role of these highly similar serine proteases in noninfectious neutrophilic inflammation. We established that PR3 and NE are required for acute inflammation in response to subcutaneous IC formation. The proteases were found to be directly involved in early neutrophil activation events, because isolated Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– neutrophils were poorly activated by ICs in vitro. These defects in Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– mice were accompanied by accumulation of PGRN. We demonstrated that PGRN represents a potent inflammation-suppressing factor that is cleaved by both PR3 and NE. Our data delineate what we believe to be a previously unknown proinflammatory role for PR3 and NE, which is accomplished via the local inactivation of antiinflammatory PGRN.


Generation of Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– mice.

To analyze the role of PR3 and NE in neutrophilic inflammation, we generated a Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– mouse line by targeted gene disruption in embryonic stem cells (see Supplemental Figure 1; supplemental material available online with this article; doi: 10.1172/JCI34694DS1). Positive recombination of the Prtn3/Ela2locus was proven by Southern blotting of embryonic stem cell clones (Figure ​(Figure1A).1A). Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– mice showed no expression of mRNA for PR3 and NE in bone marrow cells, as assessed by RT-PCR (Figure ​(Figure1B).1B). The successful elimination of PR3 and NE was confirmed at the level of proteolytic activity in neutrophil lysates using a PR3/NE-specific chromogenic substrate (Supplemental Figure 3) as well as by casein zymography (Figure ​(Figure1C).1C). The substantially reduced casein degradation by heterozygous neutrophils indicates gene-dosage dependence of PR3/NE activities. Furthermore, PR3 and NE deficiency was proven by Western blotting using cell lysates from bone marrow–derived neutrophils, while other enzymes stored in azurophilic granula, such as CG and myeloperoxidase (MPO), were normally detected (Figure ​(Figure1D).1D). Crossing of heterozygous Prtn3+/–Ela2+/– mice resulted in regular offspring of WT, heterozygous, and homozygous genotype according to the Mendelian ratio. Despite the absence of 2 abundant serine proteases, and in contrast to expectations based on previous reports (911), we found unchanged neutrophil morphology (Figure ​(Figure1E)1E) and regular neutrophil populations in the peripheral blood of the mutant mice, the latter as assessed via flow cytometry to determine the differentiation markers CD11b and Gr-1 (Figure ​(Figure1F)1F) (2526). Moreover, Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– mice demonstrated normal percentages of the leukocyte subpopulations in the peripheral blood, as determined by the Diff-Quick staining protocol and by hemocytometric counting (Supplemental Figure 2, A and B). Hence, the proteases are not crucially involved in granulopoiesis, and ablating PR3 and NE in the germ line represents a valid approach to assess their biological significance in vivo.


Figure 1

Generation and characterization of Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– mice.

PR3 and NE are dispensable for neutrophil extravasation and interstitial migration.

To examine neutrophil infiltration into the perivascular tissue, we applied phorbol esters (croton oil) to the mouse ears. At 4 h after stimulation, we assessed the neutrophil distribution in relation to the extravascular basement membrane (EBM) by immunofluorescence microscopy of fixed whole-mount specimens (Figure ​(Figure2A).2A). We found that Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– neutrophils transmigrated into the interstitium without retention at the EBM (Figure ​(Figure2B),2B), resulting in quantitatively normal and widespread neutrophil influx compared with WT mice (Figure ​(Figure2C).2C). Moreover, we analyzed chemotactic migration of isolated neutrophils through a 3-dimensional collagen meshwork in vitro (Supplemental Video 1) and found unhampered chemotaxis toward a C5a gradient, based on the directionality (Figure ​(Figure2D)2D) and velocity (Figure ​(Figure2E)2E) of Prtn3–/–Ela2–/–neutrophils. These findings led us to conclude that PR3 and NE are not principally required for neutrophil extravasation or interstitial migration.


Figure 2

PR3 and NE are not principally required for neutrophil extravasation and interstitial migration.

Reduced inflammatory response to ICs in Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– mice.

The formation of ICs represents an important trigger of neutrophil-dependent inflammation in many human diseases (2). To determine the role of PR3 and NE in this context, we induced a classic model of subcutaneous IC-mediated inflammation, namely the reverse passive Arthus reaction (RPA) (27). At 4 h after RPA induction, we assessed the cellular inflammatory infiltrates by histology using H&E-stained skin sections (Figure ​(Figure3A).3A). Neutrophils, which were additionally identified by Gr-1 immunohistochemistry, made up the vast majority of all cellular infiltrates (Figure ​(Figure3A).3A). We found that neutrophil infiltration to the sites of IC formation was severely diminished in Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– mice. Indeed, histological quantification revealed significantly reduced neutrophil influx in Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– mice compared with WT mice, while Ela2–/– mice showed marginally reduced neutrophil counts (Figure ​(Figure3B).3B). These results indicate that PR3 and NE fulfill an important proinflammatory function during IC-mediated inflammation.

Figure 3

Impaired inflammatory response to locally formed ICs inPrtn3–/–Ela2–/– mice.

(A) Representative photomicrographs of inflamed skin sections 4 h after IC formation. Neutrophils were identified morphologically (polymorphic nucleus) in H&E stainings and by Gr-1 staining (red). The cellular infiltrates were located to the adipose tissue next to the panniculus carnosus muscle (asterisks) and were primarily composed of neutrophil granulocytes. Scale bars: 200 μm. (B) Neutrophil infiltrates in lesions from Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– mice were significantly diminished compared with Ela2–/– mice and WT mice. Neutrophil influx in Ela2–/–mice was slightly, but not significantly, diminished compared with WT mice. Results are mean ± SEM infiltrated neutrophils per HPF. *P < 0.05.

PR3 and NE enhance neutrophil activation by ICs in vitro.

PR3 and NE enhance neutrophil activation by ICs in vitro.

Because PR3 and NE were required for the inflammatory response to IC (Figure ​(Figure3),3), but not to phorbol esters (Figure ​(Figure2),2), we considered the enzymes as enhancers of the neutrophil response to IC. We therefore assessed the oxidative burst using dihydrorhodamine as a readout for cellular activation of isolated, TNF-α–primed neutrophils in the presence of ICs in vitro. While both WT and Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– neutrophils showed a similar, approximately 20-min lag phase before the oxidative burst commenced, the ROS production over time was markedly reduced, by 30%–40%, in the absence of PR3 and NE (Figure ​(Figure4A).4A). In contrast, oxidative burst triggered by 25 nM PMA was not hindered in Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– neutrophils (Figure ​(Figure4B),4B), which indicated no general defect in producing ROS. We also performed a titration series ranging from 0.1 to 50 nM PMA and found no reduction in oxidative burst activity in Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– neutrophils at any PMA concentration used (Supplemental Figure 4). These data are consistent with our in vivo experiments showing that neutrophil influx to ICs was impaired (Figure ​(Figure3),3), whereas the inflammatory response to phorbol esters was normal (Figure ​(Figure2,2, A–C), in Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– mice. To compare neutrophil priming in WT and Prtn3–/–Ela2–/–neutrophils, we analyzed cell surface expression of CD11b after 30 min of incubation at various concentrations of TNF-α and found no difference (Supplemental Figure 5). Moreover, we observed normal neutrophil adhesion to IC-coated surfaces (Supplemental Figure 6A) and unaltered phagocytosis of opsonized, fluorescently labeled E. coli bacteria (Supplemental Figure 6, B and C) in the absence of both proteases. We therefore hypothesized that PR3 and NE enhance early events of adhesion-dependent neutrophil activation after TNF-α priming and binding of ICs. It is important to note that Ela2–/– neutrophils were previously shown to react normally in the same setup (20). Regarding the highly similar cleavage specificities of both proteases, we suggested that PR3 and NE complemented each other during the process of neutrophil activation and inflammation.

Figure 4

Impaired oxidative burst and PGRN degradation by IC-activatedPrtn3–/–Ela2–/– neutrophils.

Oxidative burst as the readout for neutrophil activation by ICs was measured over time. (A) While no difference was observed during the initial 20-min lag phase of the oxidative burst, Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– neutrophils exhibited diminished ROS production over time compared with WT neutrophils. (B) Bypassing receptor-mediated activation using 25 nM PMA restored the diminished oxidative burst of Prtn3–/–Ela2–/–neutrophils. Results are presented as normalized fluorescence in AU (relative to maximum fluorescence produced by WT cells). Data (mean ± SD) are representative of 3 independent experiments each conducted in triplicate. (C) Isolated mouse neutrophils were activated by ICs in vitro and tested for PGRN degradation by IB. In the cellular fraction, the PGRN (~80 kDa) signal was markedly increased in Prtn3–/–Ela2–/–cells compared with WT and Ela2–/– neutrophils. Intact PGRN was present in the supernatant (SN) of IC-activated Prtn3–/–Ela2–/–neutrophils only, not of WT or Ela2–/– cells. (D and E) Exogenous administration of 100 nM PGRN significantly reduced ROS production of neutrophils activated by ICs (D), but not when activated by PMA (E). Data (mean ± SD) are representative of 3 independent experiments each conducted in triplicate.

Antiinflammatory PGRN is degraded by PR3 and NE during IC-mediated neutrophil activation.

PGRN inhibits neutrophil activation by ICs in vitro.

Both PR3 and NE process PGRN in vitro.

Figure 5

PR3 and NE are major PGRN processing enzymes of neutrophils.

PGRN inhibits IC-mediated inflammation in vivo.

Figure 6

PGRN is a potent inhibitor of IC-stimulated inflammation in vivo.

PR3 and NE cleave PGRN during inflammation in vivo.

Finally, we aimed to demonstrate defective PGRN degradation in Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– mice during neutrophilic inflammation in vivo. For practical reasons, we harvested infiltrated neutrophils from the inflamed peritoneum 4 h after casein injection and subjected the lysates of these cells to anti-PGRN Western blot. Intact, inhibitory PGRN was detected in Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– neutrophils, but not in WT cells (Figure ​(Figure6D).6D). These data prove that neutrophilic inflammation is accompanied by proteolytic removal of antiinflammatory PGRN and that the process of PGRN degradation is essentially impaired in vivo in the absence of PR3 and NE.


Chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases are often perpetuated by continuous neutrophil infiltration and activation. According to the current view, the role of NSPs in these diseases is mainly associated with proteolytic tissue degradation after their release from activated or dying neutrophils. However, recent observations suggest that NSPs such as CG may contribute to noninfectious diseases in a more complex manner, namely as specific regulators of inflammation (18). Here, we demonstrate that PR3 and NE cooperatively fulfilled an important proinflammatory role during neutrophilic inflammation. PR3 and NE directly enhanced neutrophil activation by degrading oxidative burst–suppressing PGRN. These findings support the use of specific serine protease inhibitors as antiinflammatory agents.

Much attention has been paid to the degradation of extracellular matrix components by NSPs. We therefore expected that ablation of both PR3 and NE would cause impaired neutrophil extravasation and interstitial migration. Surprisingly, we found that the proteases were principally dispensable for these processes:Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– neutrophils migrated normally through a dense, 3-dimensional collagen matrix in vitro and demonstrated regular extravasation in vivo when phorbol esters were applied (Figure ​(Figure2).2). This finding is in agreement with recent reports that neutrophils preferentially and readily cross the EBM through regions of low matrix density in the absence of NE (28).

Conversely, we observed that PR3 and NE were required for the inflammatory response to locally formed ICs (Figure ​(Figure3).3). Even isolated Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– neutrophils were challenged in performing oxidative burst after IC stimulation in vitro (Figure ​(Figure4A),4A), showing that the proteases directly enhanced the activation of neutrophils also in the absence of extracellular matrix. However, when receptor-mediated signal transduction was bypassed by means of PMA, neutrophils from Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– mice performed normal oxidative burst (Figure ​(Figure4B),4B), indicating that the function of the phagocyte oxidase (phox) complex was not altered in the absence of PR3 and NE. These findings substantiate what we believe to be a novel paradigm: that all 3 serine proteases of azurophilic granules (CG, PR3, and NE), after their release in response to IC encounter, potentiate a positive autocrine feedback on neutrophil activation.

In contrast to CG, the highly related proteases PR3 and NE cooperate in the effacement of antiinflammatory PGRN, leading to enhanced neutrophil activation. Previous studies already demonstrated that PGRN is a potent inhibitor of the adhesion-dependent oxidative burst of neutrophils in vitro, which can be degraded by NE (23). Here, we showed that PR3 and NE play an equally important role in the regulation of PGRN function. Ela2–/– neutrophils were sufficiently able to degrade PGRN. Only in the absence of both PR3 and NE was PGRN degradation substantially impaired, resulting in the accumulation of antiinflammatory PGRN during neutrophil activation in vitro (Figure ​(Figure4C)4C) and neutrophilic inflammation in vivo (Figure ​(Figure6D).6D). Moreover, we provided in vivo evidence for the crucial role of PGRN as an inflammation-suppressing mediator, because administration of recombinant PGRN potently inhibited the neutrophil influx to sites of IC formation (Figure ​(Figure6,6, A–C). Hence, the cooperative degradation of PGRN by PR3 and NE is a decisive step for the establishment of neutrophilic inflammation.

The molecular mechanism of PGRN function is not yet completely understood, but it seems to interfere with integrin (CD11b/CD18) outside-in signaling by blocking the function of pyk2 and thus dampens adhesion-related oxidative burst even when added after the initial lag phase of oxidase activation (23). PGRN is produced by neutrophils and stored in highly mobile secretory granules (29). It was recently shown that PGRN can bind to heparan-sulfated proteoglycans (30), which are abundant components of the EBM and various cell surfaces, including those of neutrophils. Also, PR3 and NE are known to interact with heparan sulfates on the outer membrane of neutrophils, where the enzymes appear to be protected against protease inhibitors (121331). These circumstantial observations support the notion that PGRN cleavage by PR3 and NE takes place at the pericellular microenvironment of the neutrophil cell surface.

Impaired outside-in signaling most likely reduced the oxidative burst in Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– neutrophils adhering to ICs. In support of this hypothesis, we excluded an altered response to TNF-α priming (Supplemental Figure 5) as well as reduced adhesion to immobilized ICs and defective endocytosis of serum-opsonized E. coli in Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– neutrophils (Supplemental Figure 6). MPO content and processing was also unchanged in Prtn3–/–Ela2–/– neutrophils (Figure ​(Figure1D);1D); hence, the previously discussed inhibitory effect of MPO on phox activity (3233) does not appear to be stronger in neutrophils lacking PR3 and NE. Because there was no difference in the lag phase of the oxidative burst, initial IC-triggered receptor activation was probably not affected by either PRGN or PR3/NE. Our concept is consistent with all these observations and takes into account that PGRN unfolds its suppressing effects in the second phase, when additional membrane receptors, endogenous PGRN, and some PR3/NE from highly mobile intracellular pools are translocated to the cell surface. The decline and cessation of ROS production suggested to us that outside-in signaling was not sustained and that active oxidase complexes were no longer replenished in the absence of PR3 and NE. Our present findings, however, do not allow us to exclude other potential mechanisms, such as accelerated disassembly of the active oxidase complex.

Proposed function of PR3 and NE in IC-mediated inflammation.

TNF-α–primed neutrophils extravasate from blood vessels, translocate PR3/NE to the cellular surface, and discharge PGRN to the pericellular environment (i). During transmigration of interstitial tissues (ii), neutrophil activation is initially suppressed by relatively high pericellular levels of antiinflammatory PGRN (green shading), which is also produced locally by keratinocytes and epithelial cells of the skin. Until IC depots are reached, neutrophil activation is inhibited by PGRN. Surface receptors (e.g., Mac-1) recognize ICs, which results in signal transduction (black dotted arrow) and activation of the phox. The molecular pathway of PGRN-mediated inhibition is not completely understood, but it may interfere with integrin signaling after IC encounter (green dotted line inside the cell). Adherence of neutrophils to ICs (iii) further increases pericellular PR3 and NE activity. PR3 and NE cooperatively degrade PGRN in the early stage of neutrophilic activation to facilitate optimal neutrophil activation (red shading), resulting in sustained integrin signaling (red arrow) and robust production of ROS by the phox system. Subsequently, neutrophils release ROS together with other proinflammatory mediators and chemotactic agents, thereby enhancing the recruitment of further neutrophils and establishing inflammation (iv). In the absence of PR3/NE, the switch from inflammation-suppressing (ii) to inflammation-enhancing (iii) conditions is substantially delayed, resulting in diminished inflammation in response to ICs (iv).


NSPs are strongly implicated as effector molecules in a large number of destructive diseases, such as emphysema or the autoimmune blistering skin disease bullous pemphigoid (143537). Normally, PR3/NE activity is tightly controlled by high plasma levels of α1-antitrypsin. This balance between proteases and protease inhibitors is disrupted in patients with genetic α1-antitrypsin deficiency, which represents a high risk factor for the development of emphysema and certain autoimmune disorders (38). The pathogenic effects of NSPs in these diseases have so far been associated with tissue destruction by the proteases after their release from dying neutrophils. Our findings showed that PR3 and NE were already involved in much earlier events of the inflammatory process, because the enzymes directly regulated cellular activation of infiltrating neutrophils by degrading inflammation-suppressing PGRN. This concept is further supported by previous studies showing increased inflammation in mice lacking serine protease inhibitors such as SERPINB1 or SLPI (3940). Blocking PR3/NE activity using specific inhibitors therefore represents a promising therapeutic strategy to treat chronic, noninfectious inflammation. Serine protease inhibitors as antiinflammatory agents can interfere with the disease process at 2 different stages, because they attenuate both early events of neutrophil activation and proteolytic tissue injury caused by released NSPs.





Editorial: Serine proteases, serpins, and neutropenia

David C. Dale

J Leuko Biol July 2011;  90(1): 3-4

Cyclic neutropenia and severe congenital neutropenia are autosomal-dominant diseases usually attributable to mutations in the gene for neutrophil elastase orELANE. Patients with these diseases are predisposed to recurrent and life-threatening infections [1]. Neutrophil elastase, the product of the ELANE gene, is a serine protease that is synthesized and packaged in the primary granules of neutrophils. These granules are formed at the promyelocytes stage of neutrophil development. Synthesis of mutant neutrophil elastase in promyelocytes triggers the unfolded protein response and a cascade of intracellular events, which culminates in death of neutrophil precursors through apoptosis [2]. This loss of cells causes the marrow abnormality often referred to as “maturation arrest” [34].

Neutrophil elastase is one of the serine proteases normally inhibited by serpinB1. In this issue of JLB, Benarafa and coauthors [5] present their intriguing studies of serpinB1 expression in human myeloid cells and their extensive investigations ofSERPINB1−/− mice. They observed that serpinB1 expression parallels protease expression. The peak of serpinB1 expression occurs in promyelocytes. Benarafa et al. [5] found that SERPINB1−/− mice have a deficiency of postmitotic neutrophils in the bone marrow. This change was accompanied by an increase in the plasma levels of G-CSF. The decreased supply of marrow neutrophils reduced the number of neutrophils that could be mobilized to an inflammatory site. Using colony-forming cell assays, they determined that the early myeloid progenitor pool was intact. Separate assays showed that maturing myeloid cells were being lost through accelerated apoptosis of maturing neutrophils in the marrow. The authors concluded that serpinB1 is required for maintenance of a healthy reserve of marrow neutrophils and a normal acute immune response [5].

This paper provides new and fascinating insights for understanding the mechanism for neutropenia. It also suggests opportunities to investigate potential therapies for patients with neutropenia and prompts several questions. As inhibition of the activity of intracellular serine proteases is the only known function of serpinB1, the findings reported by Benarafa et al. [5] suggest that uninhibited serine proteases perturbed neutrophil production severely. The SERPINB1−/− mice used in their work have accelerated apoptosis of myeloid cells, a finding suggesting that uninhibited serine proteases or mutant neutrophil elastase perturb myelopoiesis by similar mechanisms. It is now important to determine whether the defect in the SERPINB1−/− mice is, indeed, attributable to uninhibited activity of normal neutrophil elastase, other neutrophil proteases, or another mechanism. ″Double-knockout″ studies in mice deficient in neutrophil elastase and serpinB1 might provide an answer.

This report provides evidence regarding the intracellular mechanisms for the apoptosis of myeloid cells and indicates that other studies are ongoing. The key antiapoptotic proteins, Mcl-1, Bcl-XL, and A1/Bfl-I, are apparently not involved. A more precise understanding of the mechanisms of cell death is important for development of targeted therapies for neutropenia. It is also important to discover whether only cells of the neutrophil lineage are involved or whether monocytes are also affected. In cyclic and congenital neutropenia, patients failed to produce neutrophils, but they can produce monocytes; in fact, they overproduce monocytes and have significantly elevated blood monocyte counts. Neutropenia with monocytosis is probably attributable to differences in the expression of ELANE in the two lineages. Benarafa et al. [5] reported that human bone marrow monocytes contain substantially less serpinB1 than marrow neutrophils, suggesting that the expression of serpinB1 and the serine proteases are closely coordinated.

This report shows the importance of the marrow neutrophil reserves in the normal response to infections. Compared with humans, healthy mice are always neutropenic, but they have a bigger marrow neutrophil reserve, and their mature neutrophils in the marrow and blood look like human band neutrophils. These differences are well known, but they are critical for considering the clinical inferences that can be made from this report. For example, although theSERPINB1−/− mice were not neutropenic, human SERPINB1−/− might cause neutropenia because of physiological differences between the species. If some but not all mutations in SERPINB1 cause neutropenia, we might gain a better understanding about how serpinB1 normally inhibits the neutrophil’s serine proteases.

We do not know if some or all of the mutant neutrophil elastases can be inhibited by serpinB1. We do not know whether cyclic or congenital neutropenia are attributable to defects in this interaction. However, we do know that there are chemical inhibitors of neutrophil elastase that can abrogate apoptosis of myeloid cells in a cellular model for congenital neutropenia [6]. It would be interesting to see if these chemical inhibitors can replace the natural inhibitor and normalize neutrophil production in the SERPINB1−/− mice. This would provide evidence to support use of chemical protease inhibitors as a treatment for cyclic and congenital neutropenia.

Concerns with the use of G-CSF for the treatment of cyclic and congenital neutropenia are how and why some of these patients are at risk of developing leukemia. Are the SERPINB1−/− mice with a hyperproliferative marrow and high G-CSF levels also at risk of developing myeloid leukemia?

This is a very provocative paper, and much will be learned from further studies of the SERPINB1−/− mice.


SerpinB1 is critical for neutrophil survival through cell-autonomous inhibition of cathepsin G

Mathias Baumann1,2, Christine T. N. Pham3, and Charaf Benarafa1

Blood May 9, 2013; 121(19)

Key Points

  • Serine protease inhibitor serpinB1 protects neutrophils by inhibition of their own azurophil granule protease cathepsin G.
  • Granule permeabilization in neutrophils leads to cathepsin G–mediated death upstream and independent of apoptotic caspases.


Bone marrow (BM) holds a large reserve of polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMNs) that are rapidly mobilized to the circulation and tissues in response to danger signals. SerpinB1 is a potent inhibitor of neutrophil serine proteases neutrophil elastase (NE) and cathepsin G (CG). SerpinB1 deficiency (sB1−/−) results in a severe reduction of the BM PMN reserve and failure to clear bacterial infection. Using BM chimera, we found that serpinB1 deficiency in BM cells was necessary and sufficient to reproduce the BM neutropenia ofsB1−/− mice. Moreover, we showed that genetic deletion of CG, but not NE, fully rescued the BM neutropenia in sB1−/− mice. In mixed BM chimera and in vitro survival studies, we showed that CG modulates sB1−/− PMN survival through a cell-intrinsic pathway. In addition, membrane permeabilization by lysosomotropic agent L-leucyl-L-leucine methyl ester that allows cytosolic release of granule contents was sufficient to induce rapid PMN death through a CG-dependent pathway. CG-mediated PMN cytotoxicity was only partly blocked by caspase inhibition, suggesting that CG cleaves a distinct set of targets during apoptosis. In conclusion, we have unveiled a new cytotoxic function for the serine protease CG and showed that serpinB1 is critical for maintaining PMN survival by antagonizing intracellular CG activity.


Polymorphonuclear neutrophil (PMN) granulocytes are essential components of the innate immune response to infection. PMNs are relatively short-lived leukocytes that originate from hematopoietic stem cells in the bone marrow (BM) in a process called granulopoiesis. Granulopoiesis proceeds through a proliferative phase followed by a maturation phase. After maturation, the BM retains a large reserve of mature PMNs, which includes over 90% of the mature PMNs in the body while only a small proportion (1%-5%) is in the blood.1,2 Even in noninflammatory conditions, granulopoiesis is remarkable as >1011 PMNs are produced daily in an adult human, only to be disposed of, largely unused, a few hours later.3 There is evidence that the majority of PMNs produced never reach circulation and die within the BM.4 Congenital or acquired forms of neutropenia are associated with the highest risks of bacterial and fungal infection,5 indicating a strong evolutionary pressure to maintain granulopoiesis at high levels and sustain a large mobilizable pool of PMNs in the BM.

In steady state, PMNs die by apoptosis, a form of programmed cell death that allows for the safe disposal of aging PMNs and their potentially toxic cargo. Like in other cells, caspases participate in the initiation, amplification, and execution steps of apoptosis in PMNs.6,7 Interestingly, noncaspase cysteine proteases calpain and cathepsin D were reported to induce PMN apoptosis through activation of caspases.811 In addition, PMNs carry a unique set of serine proteases (neutrophil serine proteases [NSPs]) including elastase (NE), cathepsin G (CG), and proteinase-3 (PR3) stored active in primary granules. There is strong evidence for a role of NSPs in killing pathogens and inducing tissue injury when released extracellularly.1214 In contrast, the function of NSPs in PMN homeostasis and cell death remains elusive. In particular, no defects in granulopoiesis or PMN homeostasis have been reported in mice deficient in cathepsin G (CG−/−),15 neutrophil elastase (NE−/−),16,17 or dipeptidylpeptidase I (DPPI−/−), which lack active NSPs.18 We have recently shown that mice lacking the serine protease inhibitor serpinB1 (sB1−/−) have reduced PMN survival in the lungs following Pseudomonas infection and that these mice have a profound reduction in mature PMN numbers in the BM.19,20SerpinB1, also known as monocyte NE inhibitor, is expressed at high levels in the cytoplasm of PMNs and is one of the most potent inhibitors of NE, CG, and PR3.21,22 In this study, we tested the hypothesis that serpinB1 promotes PMN survival by inhibiting 1 or several NSPs, and we discovered a novel regulatory pathway in PMN homeostasis in vivo.

Figure 1

Defective PMN reserve in BM chimera depends on serpinB1 deficiency in the hematopoietic compartment. Flow cytometry analysis of major BM leukocyte subsets of lethally irradiated mice was performed 8 to 10 weeks after BM transfer. (A) Irradiated WT (CD45.1) mice were transferred with WT (●) or sB1−/− (○) BM cells. (B) Irradiated WT (●) andsB1−/− (○) mice both CD45.2 were transferred with WT (CD45.1) BM cells. Each circle represents leukocyte numbers for 1 mouse and horizontal line indicates the median. Median subsets numbers were compared by the Mann-Whitney test (*P < .05; ***P < .001).

CG regulates neutrophil numbers in the BM

Because serpinB1 is an efficient inhibitor of NE, CG, and PR3, we then examined PMN numbers in mice deficient in 1 or several NSPs in combination with serpinB1 deletion. As expected, sB1−/− mice had significantly reduced numbers and percentage of mature PMNs in the BM compared with WT and heterozygous sB1+/− mice. In addition, PMN numbers were normal in mice deficient in either DPPI, NE, or CG (Figure 2A). DPPI is not inhibited by serpinB1 but is required for the activation of all NSPs, and no NSP activity is detectable in DPPI−/− mice.18,23 PMN counts in DPPI−/−.sB1−/− BM were significantly higher than in sB1−/− BM, suggesting that 1 or several NSPs contribute to the PMN survival defect. To examine the role of NSPs in this process, we crossed several NSP-deficient strains with sB1−/− mice. We found that NE.CG.sB1−/− mice had normal PMN numbers indicating that these NSPs play a key role in the defective phenotype of sB1−/− PMNs (Figure 2A). Furthermore, CG.sB1−/− mice showed normal PMN numbers whereasNE.sB1−/− mice retained the BM neutropenia phenotype indicating that CG, but not NE, plays a significant role in the death of sB1−/− PMNs (Figure 2A). In addition, the double-deficient NE.sB1−/− mice had significantly lower BM myelocyte numbers than sB1−/− mice while the myelocyte numbers in singly deficient NE−/− and sB1−/− BM were normal (Figure 2B). These results suggest that NE may promote myeloid cell proliferation, an activity that is revealed only when serpinB1 is absent. This complex interaction between sB1 and NE requires further investigation. On the other hand, B-cell and monocyte numbers and relative percentage in the BM were largely similar in all genotypes (supplemental Figure 2). Total numbers of blood leukocytes, erythrocytes, and platelets were normal in mice deficient in NSPs and/or serpinB1 (supplemental Figure 3). PMN numbers in blood were normal insB1−/− mice in steady state and combined deficiency of NSPs did not significantly alter these numbers (Figure 2C). Taken together, our results indicate that serpinB1 likely sustains the survival of postmitotic PMNs through its interaction with CG.

Figure 2

PMN and myelocyte numbers in BM and blood of mice deficient in NSPs and serpinB1.

CG-mediated PMN death proceeds independent of caspase activity

Figure 4

sB1−/− PMN death mediated by CG does not require caspase activity

Granule membrane permeabilization induces CG-mediated death in PMNs

To test whether granule disruption contributes to the serpinB1-regulated CG-dependent cell death, BM cells were treated with the lysosomotropic agent LLME. LLME accumulates in lysosomes where the acyl transferase activity of DPPI generates hydrophobic (Leu-Leu)n-OMe polymers that induce lysosomal membrane permeabilization (LMP) and cytotoxicity in granule-bearing cells such as cytotoxic T lymphocytes, NK cells, and myeloid cells.29,30

Figure 5

LMP induces CG-mediated death in PMNs

G-CSF therapy increases sB1−/− PMN numbers via enhanced granulopoiesis

G-CSF therapy is an effective long-term treatment in many cases of severe congenital neutropenia and it is also used to prevent chemotherapy-induced febrile neutropenia by enhancing PMN production. In addition, G-CSF delays neutrophil apoptosis by differentially regulating proapoptotic and antiapoptotic factors.10 To test whether G-CSF could rescue sB1−/− PMN survival defect, WT and sB1−/− mice were treated with therapeutic doses of G-CSF or saline for 5 days and BM and blood PMNs were analyzed 24 hours after the last injection. Total counts of myelocytes and PMNs were significantly increased in the BM of treated mice compared with their respective untreated genotype controls (Figure 6A-B). The increase in myelocyte numbers was identical in G-CSF–treated WT and sB1−/− mice, indicating that G-CSF–induced granulopoiesis proceeds normally in sB1−/−myeloid progenitors (Figure 6B).

Figure 6

In vivo G-CSF therapy increases PMN numbers in BM of sB1−/− mice.


SerpinB1 is a member of the clade B serpins, a subfamily composed of leaderless proteins with nucleocytoplasmic localization. Clade B serpins are often expressed in cells that also carry target proteases, which led to the hypothesis that intracellular serpins protect against misdirected granule proteases and/or protect bystander cells from released proteases.31 We previously reported that deficiency in serpinB1 is associated with reduced PMN survival in the BM and at inflammatory sites.19,20 The evidence presented here demonstrates that the cytoprotective function of serpinB1 in PMNs is based on the inhibition of granule protease CG. Deficiency in CG was sufficient to rescue the defect of sB1−/− mice as illustrated by normal PMN counts in the BM of double knockout CG.sB1−/− mice. We also showed that the protease-serpin interaction occurred within PMNs. Indeed, WT PMNs had a greater survival over sB1−/− PMNs in mixed BM chimera, whereas the survival of CG.sB1−/− PMNs was similar to WT PMNs after BM transfer. SerpinB1 is an ancestral clade B serpin with a conserved specificity determining reactive center loop in all vertebrates.32 Furthermore, human and mouse serpinB1 have the same specificity for chymotrypsin-like and elastase-like serine proteases.21,22 Likewise, human and mouse CG have identical substrate specificities and the phenotype of CG−/− murine PMN can be rescued by human CG.33 Therefore, it is highly likely that the antagonistic functions of CG and serpinB1 in cellular homeostasis observed in mice can be extended to other species.

Extracellular CG was previously reported to promote detachment-induced apoptosis (anoikis) in human and mouse cardiomyocytes.34 This activity is mediated through the shedding and transactivation of epidermal growth factor receptor and downregulation of focal adhesion signaling.35,36 In our study, exogenous human CG also induced PMN death in vitro but these effects were not enhanced in sB1−/− PMNs and the neutropenia associated with serpinB1 deficiency was principally cell intrinsic. How intracellular CG induces PMN death remains to be fully investigated. However, our studies provide some indications on the potential pathways. Like other NSPs, the expression of CG is transcriptionally restricted to the promyelocyte stage during PMN development and NSPs are then stored in active form in primary azurophil granules.37 Because serpinB1 is equally efficient at inhibiting NE, CG, and PR3, it was surprising that deletion of CG alone was sufficient to achieve a complete reversal of the PMN survival defect in CG.sB1−/− mice. A possible explanation would be that CG gains access to targets more readily than other granule proteases. There is evidence that binding to serglycin proteoglycans differs between NE and CG resulting in altered sorting of NE but not CG into granules of serglycin-deficient PMNs.38 Different interactions with granule matrix may thus contribute to differential release of CG from the granules compared with other NSPs. However, because sB1−/− PMNs have similar levels of CG and NE as WT PMNs20 and because LLME-induced granule permeabilization likely releases all granule contents equally, we favor an alternative interpretation where CG specifically targets essential cellular components that are not cleaved by the other serpinB1-inhibitable granule proteases. Upon granule permeabilization, we found that CG can induce cell death upstream of caspases as well as independent of caspases. CG was previously shown to activate caspase-7 in vitro and it functions at neutral pH, which is consistent with a physiological role in the nucleocytoplasmic environment.39 Cell death induced by lysosomal/granule membrane permeabilization has previously been linked to cysteine cathepsins in other cell types. However, these proteases appear to depend on caspase activation to trigger apoptosis and they function poorly at neutral pH, questioning their potential role as regulators of cell death.40 In contrast, CG-mediated cell death is not completely blocked by caspase inhibition, which is a property reminiscent of granzymes in cytotoxic T cells.41 In fact, CG is phylogenetically most closely related to serine proteases granzyme B and H.42 Granzymes have numerous nuclear, mitochondrial, and cytoplasmic target proteins leading to cell death41 and we anticipate that this may also be the case for CG.


G-CSF therapy is successfully used to treat most congenital and acquired neutropenia through increased granulopoiesis, mobilization from the BM, and increased survival of PMNs. Prosurvival effects of G-CSF include the upregulation of antiapoptotic Bcl-2 family members, which act upstream of the mitochondria and the activation of effector caspases. In sB1−/− mice, G-CSF levels in serum are fourfold higher than in WT mice in steady state and this is accompanied by an upregulation of the antiapoptotic Bcl-2 family member Mcl-1 in sB1−/− PMNs.19 Here, G-CSF therapy significantly increased granulopoiesis in both WT and sB1−/− mice. However, the PMN numbers in treated sB1−/− BM and blood were significantly lower than those of treated WT mice, indicating only a partial rescue of the survival defect. This is consistent with our findings that CG-mediated death can proceed independent of caspases and can thus bypass antiapoptotic effects mediated by G-CSF.

CG has largely been studied in association with antimicrobial and inflammatory functions due to its presence in PMNs.1214,49 In this context, we have previously shown that serpinB1 contributes to prevent increased mortality and morbidity associated with production of inflammatory cytokines upon infection with Pseudomonas aeruginosa and influenza A virus.20,50 In this study, we demonstrate that serpinB1 inhibition of the primary granule protease CG in PMNs is essential for PMN survival and this ultimately regulates PMN numbers in vivo. Our findings also extend the roles of CG from antimicrobial and immunoregulatory functions to a novel role in inducing cell death.


Neutrophil Elastase, Proteinase 3, and Cathepsin G as Therapeutic Targets in Human Diseases

Brice KorkmazMarshall S. HorwitzDieter E. Jenne and Francis Gauthier
Pharma Rev Dec 2010; 62(4):726-759

Polymorphonuclear neutrophils are the first cells recruited to inflammatory sites and form the earliest line of defense against invading microorganisms. Neutrophil elastase, proteinase 3, and cathepsin G are three hematopoietic serine proteases stored in large quantities in neutrophil cytoplasmic azurophilic granules. They act in combination with reactive oxygen species to help degrade engulfed microorganisms inside phagolysosomes. These proteases are also externalized in an active form during neutrophil activation at inflammatory sites, thus contributing to the regulation of inflammatory and immune responses. As multifunctional proteases, they also play a regulatory role in noninfectious inflammatory diseases. Mutations in the ELA2/ELANE gene, encoding neutrophil elastase, are the cause of human congenital neutropenia. Neutrophil membrane-bound proteinase 3 serves as an autoantigen in Wegener granulomatosis, a systemic autoimmune vasculitis. All three proteases are affected by mutations of the gene (CTSC) encoding dipeptidyl peptidase I, a protease required for activation of their proform before storage in cytoplasmic granules. Mutations of CTSC cause Papillon-Lefèvre syndrome. Because of their roles in host defense and disease, elastase, proteinase 3, and cathepsin G are of interest as potential therapeutic targets. In this review, we describe the physicochemical functions of these proteases, toward a goal of better delineating their role in human diseases and identifying new therapeutic strategies based on the modulation of their bioavailability and activity. We also describe how nonhuman primate experimental models could assist with testing the efficacy of proposed therapeutic strategies.


Human polymorphonuclear neutrophils represent 35 to 75% of the population of circulating leukocytes and are the most abundant type of white blood cell in mammals (Borregaard et al., 2005). They are classified as granulocytes because of their intracytoplasmic granule content and are characterized by a multilobular nucleus. Neutrophils develop from pluripotent stem cells in the bone marrow and are released into the bloodstream where they reach a concentration of 1.5 to 5 × 109 cells/liter. Their half-life in the circulation is only on the order of a few hours. They play an essential role in innate immune defense against invading pathogens and are among the primary mediators of inflammatory response. During the acute phase of inflammation, neutrophils are the first inflammatory cells to leave the vasculature, where they migrate toward sites of inflammation, following a gradient of inflammatory stimuli. They are responsible for short-term phagocytosis during the initial stages of infection (Borregaard and Cowland, 1997Hampton et al., 1998Segal, 2005). Neutrophils use complementary oxidative and nonoxidative pathways to defend the host against invading pathogens (Kobayashi et al., 2005).

The three serine proteases neutrophil elastase (NE1), proteinase 3 (PR3), and cathepsin G (CG) are major components of neutrophil azurophilic granules and participate in the nonoxidative pathway of intracellular and extracellular pathogen destruction. These neutrophil serine proteases (NSPs) act intracellularly within phagolysosomes to digest phagocytized microorganisms in combination with microbicidal peptides and the membrane-associated NADPH oxidase system, which produces reactive oxygen metabolites (Segal, 2005). An additional extracellular antimicrobial mechanism, neutrophil extracellular traps (NET), has been described that is made of a web-like structure of DNA secreted by activated neutrophils (Papayannopoulos and Zychlinsky, 2009) (Fig. 1). NETs are composed of chromatin bound to positively charged molecules, such as histones and NSPs, and serve as physical barriers that kill pathogens extracellularly, thus preventing further spreading. NET-associated NSPs participate in pathogen killing by degrading bacterial virulence factors extracellularly (Brinkmann et al., 2004;Papayannopoulos and Zychlinsky, 2009).

Fig. 1.

Polymorphonuclear neutrophil. Quiescent (A) and chemically activated (B) neutrophils purified from peripheral blood. C, PMA-activated neutrophils embedded within NET and neutrophil spreading on insoluble elastin.

In addition to their involvement in pathogen destruction and the regulation of proinflammatory processes, NSPs are also involved in a variety of inflammatory human conditions, including chronic lung diseases (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis, acute lung injury, and acute respiratory distress syndrome) (Lee and Downey, 2001Shapiro, 2002Moraes et al., 2003Owen, 2008b). In these disorders, accumulation and activation of neutrophils in the airways result in excessive secretion of active NSPs, thus causing lung matrix destruction and inflammation. NSPs are also involved in other human disorders as a consequence of gene mutations, altered cellular trafficking, or, for PR3, autoimmune disease. Mutations in the ELA2/ELANE gene encoding HNE are the cause of human cyclic neutropenia and severe congenital neutropenia (Horwitz et al., 19992007). Neutrophil membrane-bound proteinase 3 (mPR3) is the major target antigen of anti-neutrophil cytoplasmic autoantibodies (ANCA), which are associated with Wegener granulomatosis (Jenne et al., 1990). All three proteases are affected by mutation of the gene (CTSC) encoding dipeptidyl peptidase I (DPPI), which activates several granular hematopoietic serine proteases (Pham and Ley, 1999Adkison et al., 2002). Mutations of CTSC cause Papillon-Lefèvre syndrome and palmoplantar keratosis (Hart et al., 1999Toomes et al., 1999).


Fully processed mature HNE, PR3, and CG isolated from azurophilic granules contain, respectively, 218 (Bode et al., 1986Sinha et al., 1987), 222 (Campanelli et al., 1990b), and 235 (Salvesen et al., 1987Hof et al., 1996) residues. They are present in several isoforms depending on their carbohydrate content, with apparent mass of 29 to 33 kDa upon SDS-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (Twumasi and Liener, 1977Watorek et al., 1993). HNE and PR3 display two sites of N-glycosylation, whereas CG possesses only one. NSPs are stored mainly in neutrophil azurophilic granules, but HNE is also localized in the nuclear envelope, as revealed by immunostaining and electron microscopy (Clark et al., 1980;Benson et al., 2003), whereas PR3 is also found in secretory vesicles (Witko-Sarsat et al., 1999a). Upon neutrophil activation, granular HNE, PR3, and CG are secreted extracellularly, although some molecules nevertheless remain at the cell surface (Owen and Campbell, 1999Owen, 2008a). The mechanism through which NSPs are sorted from the trans-Golgi network to the granules has not been completely defined, even though an intracellular proteoglycan, serglycin, has been identified as playing a role in elastase sorting and packaging into azurophilic granules (Niemann et al., 2007). Unlike HNE and CG, PR3 is constitutively expressed on the membranes of freshly isolated neutrophils (Csernok et al., 1990Halbwachs-Mecarelli et al., 1995). Stimulation of neutrophils at inflammatory sites triggers intracytoplasmic granules to translocate to the phagosomes and plasma membrane, thereby liberating their contents. The first step of the translocation to the target membrane depends on cytoskeleton remodeling and microtubule assembly (Burgoyne and Morgan, 2003). This is followed by a second step of granule tethering and docking, which are dependent on the sequential intervention of SNARE proteins (Jog et al., 2007).


Exposure of neutrophils to cytokines (TNF-α), chemoattractants (platelet-activating factor, formyl-Met-Leu-Phe, or IL-8), or bacterial lipopolysaccharide leads to rapid granule translocation to the cell surface with secretion of HNE, PR3, and CG into the extracellular medium (Owen and Campbell, 1999). A fraction of secreted HNE, PR3, and CG is detected at the surface of activated neutrophils (Owen et al., 1995a1997Campbell et al., 2000). Resting purified neutrophils from peripheral blood express variable amounts of PR3 on their surface. A bimodal, apparently genetically determined, distribution has been observed with two populations of quiescent neutrophils that express or do not express the protease at their surface (Halbwachs-Mecarelli et al., 1995Schreiber et al., 2003). The percentage of mPR3-positive neutrophils ranges from 0 to 100% of the total neutrophil population within individuals. Furthermore, the percentage of mPR3-positive neutrophils remains stable over time and is not affected by neutrophil activation (Halbwachs-Mecarelli et al., 1995).

The mechanism through which HNE and CG are associated with the outer surface of the plasma membrane of neutrophils mainly involves electrostatic interactions with the sulfate groups of chondroitin sulfate- and heparan sulfate-containing proteoglycans (Campbell and Owen, 2007). These two proteases are released from neutrophil cell surfaces by high concentrations of salt (Owen et al., 1995b1997;Korkmaz et al., 2005a) and after treatment with chondroitinase ABC and heparinase (Campbell and Owen, 2007). Membrane PR3 is not solubilized by high salt concentrations, which means that its membrane association is not charge dependant (Witko-Sarsat et al., 1999aKorkmaz et al., 2009). Unlike HNE and CG, PR3 bears at its surface a hydrophobic patch formed by residues Phe166, Ile217, Trp218, Leu223, and Phe224 that is involved in membrane binding (Goldmann et al., 1999Hajjar et al., 2008) (Fig. 3B). Several membrane partners of PR3 have been identified, including CD16/FcγRIIIb (David et al., 2005Fridlich et al., 2006), phospholipid scramblase-1, a myristoylated membrane protein with translocase activity present in lipid rafts (Kantari et al., 2007), CD11b/CD18 (David et al., 2003), and human neutrophil antigen NB1/CD177 (von Vietinghoff et al., 2007Hu et al., 2009), a 58- to 64-kDa glycosyl-phosphatidylinositol anchored surface receptor belonging to the urokinase plasminogen activator receptor superfamily (Stroncek, 2007). NB1 shows a bimodal distribution that superimposes with that of PR3 on purified blood neutrophils (Bauer et al., 2007). Active, mature forms of PR3 but not pro-PR3 can bind to the surface of NB1-transfected human embryonic kidney 293 cells (von Vietinghoff et al., 2008) and Chinese hamster ovary cells (Korkmaz et al., 2008b). Interaction involves the hydrophobic patch of PR3 because specific amino acid substitutions disrupting this patch in the closely related gibbon PR3 prevent binding to NB1-transfected cells (Korkmaz et al., 2008b). Decreased interaction of pro-PR3 with NB1-transfected cells is explained by the topological changes affecting the activation domain containing the hydrophobic patch residues. Together, these results support the hydrophobic nature of PR3-membrane interaction.


Roles in Inflammatory Process Regulation

NSPs are abundantly secreted into the extracellular environment upon neutrophil activation at inflammatory sites. A fraction of the released proteases remain bound in an active form on the external surface of the plasma membrane so that both soluble and membrane-bound NSPs are able to proteolytically regulate the activities of a variety of chemokines, cytokines, growth factors, and cell surface receptors. Secreted proteases also activate lymphocytes and cleave apoptotic and adhesion molecules (Bank and Ansorge, 2001Pham, 2006Meyer-Hoffert, 2009). Thus, they retain pro- and anti-inflammatory activities, resulting in a modulation of the immune response at sites of inflammation.


Processing of Cytokines, Chemokines, and Growth Factors.

Processing and Activation of Cellular Receptors.

Induction of Apoptosis by Proteinase 3.

Physiological Inhibitors of Elastase, Proteinase 3, and Cathepsin G

During phagocytosis and neutrophil turnover, HNE, PR3, and CG are released into the extracellular space as active proteases. The proteolytic activity of HNE, PR3, and CG seems to be tightly regulated in the extracellular and pericellular space to avoid degradation of connective tissue proteins including elastin, collagen, and proteoglycans (Janoff, 1985). Protein inhibitors that belong to three main families, the serpins, the chelonianins, and the macroglobulins, ultimately control proteolytic activity of HNE, PR3, and CG activities. The individual contributions of these families depend on their tissue localization and that of their target proteases. The main characteristics of HNE, PR3, and CG physiological inhibitors are presented in Table 2.


Serine Protease Inhibitors

Serpins are the largest and most diverse family of protease inhibitors; more than 1000 members have been identified in human, plant, fungi, bacteria, archaea, and certain viruses (Silverman et al., 2001Mangan et al., 2008). They share a similar highly conserved tertiary structure and similar molecular weight of approximately 50 kDa. Human serpins belong to the first nine clades (A–I) of the 16 that have been described based on phylogenic relationships (Irving et al., 2000Silverman et al., 2001Mangan et al., 2008). For historical reasons, α1-protease inhibitor (α1-PI) was assigned to the first clade. Clade B, also known as the ov-serpin clan because of the similarity of its members to ovalbumin (a protein that belongs to the serpin family but lacks inhibitory activity), is the second largest clan in humans, with 15 members identified so far. Ov-serpin clan members are generally located in the cytoplasm and, to a lesser extent, on the cell surface and nucleus (Remold-O’Donnell, 1993).

Serpins play important regulatory functions in intracellular and extracellular proteolytic events, including blood coagulation, complement activation, fibrinolysis, cell migration, angiogenesis, and apoptosis (Potempa et al., 1994). Serpin dysfunction is known to contribute to diseases such as emphysema, thrombosis, angioedema, and cancer (Carrell and Lomas, 1997Lomas and Carrell, 2002). Most inhibitory serpins target trypsin-/chymotrypsin-like serine proteases, but some, termed “cross-class inhibitors,” have been shown to target cysteine proteases (Annand et al., 1999). The crystal structure of the prototype plasma inhibitor α1-PI revealed the archetype native serpin fold (Loebermann et al., 1984). All serpins typically have three β-sheets (termed A, B, and C) and eight or nine α-helices (hA–hI) arranged in a stressed configuration. The so-called reactive center loop (RCL) of inhibitory molecules determines specificity and forms the initial encounter complex with the target protease (Potempa et al., 1994Silverman et al., 2001). Serpins inhibit proteases by a suicide substrate inhibition mechanism. The protease initially recognizes the serpin as a potential substrate using residues of the reactive center loop and cleaves it between P1 and P1′ This cleavage allows insertion of the cleaved RCL into the β-sheet A of the serpin, dragging the protease with it and moving it over 71 Å to the distal end of the serpin to form a 1:1 stoichiometric covalent inhibitory complex (Huntington et al., 2000). Such cleavage generates a ∼4-kDa C-terminal fragment that remains noncovalently bound to the cleaved serpin. Displacement of the covalently attached active site serine residue from its catalytic partner histidine explains the loss of catalytic function in the covalent complex. The distortion of the catalytic site structure prevents the release of the protease from the complex, and the structural disorder induces its proteolytic inactivation (Huntington et al., 2000). Covalent complex formation between serpin and serine proteases triggers a number of conformational changes, particularly in the activation domain loops of the bound protease (Dementiev et al., 2006).


Pathophysiology of Elastase, Proteinase 3 and Cathepsin G in Human Diseases

In many instances, the initiation and propagation of lung damage is a consequence of an exaggerated inappropriate inflammatory response, which includes the release of proteases and leukocyte-derived cytotoxic products (Owen, 2008b;Roghanian and Sallenave, 2008). Inflammation is a physiological protective response to injury or infection consisting of endothelial activation, leukocyte recruitment and activation, vasodilation, and increased vascular permeability. Although designed to curtail tissue injury and facilitate repair, the inflammatory response sometimes results in further injury and organ dysfunction. Inflammatory chronic lung diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, acute lung injury, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and cystic fibrosis are syndromes of severe pulmonary dysfunction resulting from a massive inflammatory response and affecting millions of people worldwide. The histological hallmark of these chronic inflammatory lung diseases is the accumulation of neutrophils in the microvasculature of the lung. Neutrophils are crucial to the innate immune response, and their activation leads to the release of multiple cytotoxic products, including reactive oxygen species and proteases (serine, cysteine, and metalloproteases). The physiological balance between proteases and antiproteases is required for the maintenance of the lung’s connective tissue, and an imbalance in favor of proteases results in lung injury (Umeki et al., 1988Tetley, 1993). A number of studies in animal and cell culture models have demonstrated a contribution of HNE and related NSPs to the development of chronic inflammatory lung diseases. Available preclinical and clinical data suggest that inhibition of NSP in lung diseases suppresses or attenuates the contribution of NSP to pathogenesis (Chughtai and O’Riordan, 2004Voynow et al., 2008Quinn et al., 2010). HNE could also participate in fibrotic lung remodeling by playing a focused role in the conversion of latent transforming growth factor-β into its biologically active form (Chua and Laurent, 2006Lungarella et al., 2008).

Anti-Neutrophil Cytoplasmic Autoantibody-Associated Vasculitides

ANCA-associated vasculitides encompasses a variety of diseases characterized by inflammation of blood vessels and by the presence of autoantibodies directed against neutrophil constituents. These autoantibodies are known as ANCAs (Kallenberg et al., 2006). In Wegener granulomatosis (WG), antibodies are mostly directed against PR3. WG is a relatively uncommon chronic inflammatory disorder first described in 1931 by Heinz Karl Ernst Klinger as a variant of polyarteritis nodosa (Klinger, 1931). In 1936, the German pathologist Friedrich Wegener described the disease as a distinct pathological entity (Wegener, 19361939). WG is characterized by necrotizing granulomatous inflammation and vasculitis of small vessels and can affect any organ (Fauci and Wolff, 1973Sarraf and Sneller, 2005). The most common sites of involvement are the upper and lower respiratory tract and the kidneys. WG affects approximately 1 in 20,000 people; it can occur in persons of any age but most often affects those aged 40 to 60 years (Walton, 1958Cotch et al., 1996). Approximately 90% of patients have cold or sinusitis symptoms that fail to respond to the usual therapeutic measures and that last considerably longer than the usual upper respiratory tract infection. Lung involvement occurs in approximately 85% of the patients. Other symptoms include nasal membrane ulcerations and crusting, saddle-nose deformity, inflammation of the ear with hearing problems, inflammation of the eye with sight problems, and cough (with or without hemoptysis).

Hereditary Neutropenias

Neutropenia is a hematological disorder characterized by an abnormally low number of neutrophils (Horwitz et al., 2007). The normal neutrophil count fluctuates across human populations and within individual patients in response to infection but typically lies in the range of 1.5 to 5 × 109 cells/liter. Neutropenia is categorized as severe when the cell count falls below 0.5 × 109 cells/liter. Hence, patients with neutropenia are more susceptible to bacterial infections and, without prompt medical attention, the condition may become life-threatening. Common causes of neutropenia include cancer chemotherapy, drug reactions, autoimmune diseases, and hereditary disorders (Berliner et al., 2004Schwartzberg, 2006).

Papillon-Lefèvre Syndrome


New Strategies for Fighting Neutrophil Serine Protease-Related Human Diseases

Administration of therapeutic inhibitors to control unwanted proteolysis at inflammation sites has been tested as a therapy for a variety of inflammatory and infectious lung diseases (Chughtai and O’Riordan, 2004). Depending on the size and chemical nature of the inhibitors, they may be administered orally, intravenously, or by an aerosol route. Whatever the mode of administration, the access of therapeutic inhibitors to active proteases is often hampered by physicochemical constraints in the extravascular space and/or by the partitioning of proteases between soluble and solid phases.


Concluding Remarks

NSPs were first recognized as protein-degrading enzymes but have now proven to be multifunctional components participating in a variety of pathophysiological processes. Thus, they appear as potential therapeutic targets for drugs that inhibit their active site or impair activation from their precursor. Overall, the available preclinical and clinical data suggest that inhibition of NSPs using therapeutic inhibitors would suppress or attenuate deleterious effects of inflammatory diseases, including lung diseases. Depending on the size and chemical nature of inhibitors, those may be administered orally, intravenously, or by aerosolization. But the results obtained until now have not been fully convincing because of the poor knowledge of the biological function of each protease, their spatiotemporal regulation during the course of the disease, the physicochemical constraints associated with inhibitor administration, or the use of animal models in which NSP regulation and specificity differ from those in human. Two different and complementary approaches may help bypass these putative problems. One is to target active proteases by inhibitors at the inflammatory site in animal models in which lung anatomy and physiology are close to those in human to allow in vitro and in vivo assays of human-directed drugs/inhibitors. The other is to prevent neutrophil accumulation at inflammatory sites by impairing production of proteolytically active NSPs using an inhibitor of their maturation protease, DPPI. Preventing neutrophil accumulation at the inflammatory sites by therapeutic inhibition of DPPI represents an original and novel approach, the exploration of which has just started (Méthot et al., 2008). Thus pharmacological inactivation of DPPI in human neutrophils could well reduce membrane binding of PR3 and, as a consequence, neutrophil priming by pathogenic auto-antibodies in WG. In addition, it has been recognized that the intracellular level of NSPs depends on their correct intracellular trafficking. In the future, pharmacological targeting of molecules specifically involved in the correct intracellular trafficking of each NSP could possibly regulate their production and activity, a feature that could be exploited as a therapeutic strategy for inflammatory diseases.










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