Lung epithelium guarantees gas-exchange (performed in the alveoli) and protects from external insults (pathogens, pollutants…) present within inhaled air. Both functions are facilitated by secretions lining airway surface liquid, mucus (in the upper airways) and pulmonary surfactant (in the alveoli). Mucins, the main glycoproteins present within the mucus, are responsible for its rheologic properties and participate in lung defense mechanisms. In parallel, lung collectins are pattern recognition molecules present in pulmonary surfactant that also modulate lung defense. During chronic airways diseases, excessive protease activity can promote mucus hypersecretion and degradation of lung collectins and therefore contribute to the pathophysiology of these diseases. Importantly, secretion of local and systemic anti-proteases might be crucial to equilibrate the protease/anti-protease unbalance and therefore preserve the function of lung host defense compounds and airway surface liquid homeostasis. In this review we will present information relative to proteases able to modulate mucin production and lung collectin integrity, two important compounds of innate immune defense. One strategy to preserve physiological mucus production and collectin integrity during chronic airways diseases might be the over-expression of local 'alarm' anti-proteases such as SLPI and elafin. Interestingly, a cross-talk between lung collectins and anti-protease activity has recently been described, implicating the presence within the lung of a complex network between proteases, anti-proteases and pattern recognition molecules, which aims to keep or restore homeostasis in resting or inflamed lungs.
Copyright © 2010 Elsevier Masson SAS. All rights reserved.