Neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) are beneficial antimicrobial defense structures that can help fight against invading pathogens in the host. However, recent studies reveal that NETs exert adverse effects in a number of diseases including those of the lung. Many inflammatory lung diseases are characterized with a massive influx of neutrophils into the airways. Neutrophils contribute to the pathology of these diseases. To date, NETs have been identified in the lungs of cystic fibrosis (CF), acute lung injury (ALI), allergic asthma, and lungs infected with bacteria, virus, or fungi. These microbes and several host factors can stimulate NET formation, or NETosis. Different forms of NETosis have been identified and are dependent on varying types of stimuli. All of these pathways however appear to result in the formation of NETs that contain DNA, modified extracellular histones, proteases, and cytotoxic enzymes. Some of the NET components are immunogenic and damaging to host tissue. Innate immune collectins, such as pulmonary surfactant protein D (SP-D), bind NETs, and enhance the clearance of dying cells and DNA by alveolar macrophages. In many inflammatory lung diseases, bronchoalveolar SP-D levels are altered and its deficiency results in the accumulation of DNA in the lungs. Some of the other therapeutic molecules under consideration for treating NET-related diseases include DNases, antiproteases, myeloperoxidase (MPO) inhibitors, peptidylarginine deiminase-4 inhibitors, and anti-histone antibodies. NETs could provide important biological advantage for the host to fight against certain microbial infections. However, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Maintaining the right balance of NET formation and reducing the amount of NETs that accumulate in tissues are essential for harnessing the power of NETs with minimal damage to the hosts.
Keywords: acute lung injury (ALI); cystic fibrosis (CF); lung infection; lung inflammation; neutrophil; neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs); surfactant protein D (SP-D).