The discovery of α1-antitrypsin and its role in health and disease

Respir Med. 2011 Aug;105(8):1129-39. doi: 10.1016/j.rmed.2011.02.002. Epub 2011 Mar 1.


α1-Antitrypsin (AAT) is the archetype member of the serine protease inhibitor (SERPIN) supergene family. The AAT deficiency is most often associated with the Z mutation, which results in abnormal Z AAT folding in the endoplasmic reticulum of hepatocytes during biogenesis. This causes intra-cellular retention of the AAT protein rather than efficient secretion with consequent deficiency of circulating AAT. The reduced serum levels of AAT contribute to the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and the accumulation of abnormally folded AAT protein increases risk for liver diseases. In this review we show that with the discovery of AAT deficiency in the early 60s as a genetically determined predisposition to the development of early-onset emphysema, intensive investigations of enzymatic mechanisms that produce lung destruction in COPD were pursued. To date, the role of AAT in other than lung and liver diseases has not been extensively examined. Current findings provide new evidence that, in addition to protease inhibition, AAT expresses anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory and antimicrobial properties, and highlight the importance of this protein in health and diseases. In this review co-occurrence of several diseases with AAT deficiency is discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Gene Expression / genetics*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / etiology*
  • Pulmonary Emphysema / etiology*
  • alpha 1-Antitrypsin / physiology*
  • alpha 1-Antitrypsin Deficiency / complications
  • alpha 1-Antitrypsin Deficiency / genetics


  • alpha 1-Antitrypsin