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Proteases have been shown to degrade airway mucin proteins and to damage the epithelium impairing mucociliary clearance. There are increased proteases in the COPD airway but changes in protease-antiprotease balance and mucin degradation have not been investigated during the course of a COPD exacerbation. We hypothesized that increased protease levels would lead to mucin degradation in acute COPD exacerbations.
We measured neutrophil elastase (NE) and alpha 1 protease inhibitor (A1-PI) levels using immunoblotting, and conducted protease inhibitor studies, zymograms, elastin substrate assays and cigarette smoke condensate experiments to evaluate the stability of the gel-forming mucins, MUC5AC and MUC5B, before and 5–6 weeks after an acute pulmonary exacerbation of COPD (n = 9 subjects).
Unexpectedly, mucin concentration and mucin stability were highest at the start of the exacerbation and restored to baseline after 6 weeks. Consistent with these data, immunoblots and zymograms confirmed decreased NE concentration and activity and increased A1-PI at the start of the exacerbation. After recovery there was an increase in NE activity and a decrease in A1-PI levels. In vitro, protease inhibitor studies demonstrated that serine proteases played a key role in mucin degradation. Mucin stability was further enhanced upon treating with cigarette smoke condensate (CSC).
There appears to be rapid consumption of secreted proteases due to an increase in antiproteases, at the start of a COPD exacerbation. This leads to increased mucin gel stability which may be important in trapping and clearing infectious and inflammatory mediators, but this may also contribute acutely to mucus retention.
Copyright © Chillappagari et al. 2015 This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
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VCU Pediatrics Publications