Influence of DNA on the activities and inhibition of neutrophil serine proteases in cystic fibrosis sputum

Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 2012 Jul;47(1):80-6. doi: 10.1165/rcmb.2011-0380OC. Epub 2012 Feb 16.


Uncontrolled proteolysis by neutrophil serine proteases (NSPs) in lung secretions is a hallmark of cystic fibrosis (CF). We have shown that the active neutrophil elastase, protease 3, and cathepsin G in CF sputum resist inhibition in part by exogenous protease inhibitors. This resistance may be due to their binding to neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) secreted by the activated neutrophils in CF sputum and to genomic DNA released from senescent and dead neutrophils. Treating CF sputum with DNase dramatically increases its elastase activity, which can then be stoichiometrically inhibited by exogenous elastase inhibitors. However, DNase treatment does not increase the activities of protease 3 and cathepsin G, indicating their different distribution and/or binding in CF sputum. Purified blood neutrophils secrete NETs when stimulated by the opportunistic CF bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus. The activities of the three proteases were unchanged in these conditions, but subsequent DNase treatment produced a dramatic increase in all three proteolytic activities. Neutrophils activated with a calcium ionophore did not secrete NETs but released huge amounts of active proteases whose activities were not modified by DNase. We conclude that NETs are reservoirs of active proteases that protect them from inhibition and maintain them in a rapidly mobilizable status. Combining the effects of protease inhibitors with that of DNA-degrading agents could counter the deleterious proteolytic effects of NSPs in CF lung secretions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cathepsin G / metabolism
  • Cystic Fibrosis / enzymology*
  • Cystic Fibrosis / genetics
  • Cystic Fibrosis / immunology*
  • DNA / metabolism*
  • Deoxyribonucleases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Leukocyte Elastase / metabolism
  • Lung / metabolism
  • Neutrophil Activation
  • Neutrophils / enzymology*
  • Neutrophils / immunology
  • Pancreatic Elastase / metabolism
  • Proteolysis
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / immunology
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / pathogenicity
  • Serine Proteases / metabolism*
  • Serine Proteinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Sputum / drug effects
  • Sputum / immunology*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / immunology
  • Staphylococcus aureus / pathogenicity


  • Serine Proteinase Inhibitors
  • DNA
  • Deoxyribonucleases
  • Serine Proteases
  • Cathepsin G
  • Pancreatic Elastase
  • Leukocyte Elastase