Rationale: Mechanical ventilation with O₂-rich gas (MV-O₂) offers life-saving treatment for respiratory failure, but also promotes lung injury. We previously reported that MV-O2 of newborn mice increased lung elastase activity, causing elastin degradation and redistribution of elastic fibers from septal tips to alveolar walls. These changes were associated with transforming growth factor (TGF)-β activation and increased apoptosis leading to defective alveolarization and lung growth arrest, as seen in neonatal chronic lung disease.
Objectives: To determine if intratracheal treatment of newborn mice with the serine elastase inhibitor elafin would prevent MV-O₂-induced lung elastin degradation and the ensuing cascade of events causing lung growth arrest.
Methods: Five-day-old mice were treated via tracheotomy with recombinant human elafin or vehicle (lactated-Ringer solution), followed by MV with 40% O₂ for 8-24 hours; control animals breathed 40% O₂ without MV. At study's end, lungs were harvested to assess key variables noted below.
Measurements and main results: MV-O₂ of vehicle-treated pups increased lung elastase and matrix metalloproteinase-9 activity when compared with unventilated control animals, causing elastin degradation (urine desmosine doubled), TGF-β activation (pSmad-2 tripled), and apoptosis (cleaved-caspase-3 increased 10-fold). Quantitative lung histology showed larger and fewer alveoli, greater inflammation, and scattered elastic fibers. Elafin blocked these MV-O₂-induced changes.
Conclusions: Intratracheal elafin, by blocking lung protease activity, prevented MV-O₂-induced elastin degradation, TGF-β activation, apoptosis, and dispersion of matrix elastin, and attenuated lung structural abnormalities noted in vehicle-treated mice after 24 hours of MV-O₂. These findings suggest that elastin breakdown contributes to defective lung growth in response to MV-O₂ and might be targeted therapeutically to prevent MV-O₂-induced lung injury.