Neutrophil elastase causes tissue damage that decreases host tolerance to lung infection with burkholderia species

PLoS Pathog. 2014 Aug 28;10(8):e1004327. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1004327. eCollection 2014 Aug.


Two distinct defense strategies can protect the host from infection: resistance is the ability to destroy the infectious agent, and tolerance is the ability to withstand infection by minimizing the negative impact it has on the host's health without directly affecting pathogen burden. Burkholderia pseudomallei is a Gram-negative bacterium that infects macrophages and causes melioidosis. We have recently shown that inflammasome-triggered pyroptosis and IL-18 are equally important for resistance to B. pseudomallei, whereas IL-1β is deleterious. Here we show that the detrimental role of IL-1β during infection with B. pseudomallei (and closely related B. thailandensis) is due to excessive recruitment of neutrophils to the lung and consequent tissue damage. Mice deficient in the potentially damaging enzyme neutrophil elastase were less susceptible than the wild type C57BL/6J mice to infection, although the bacterial burdens in organs and the extent of inflammation were comparable between C57BL/6J and elastase-deficient mice. In contrast, lung tissue damage and vascular leakage were drastically reduced in elastase-deficient mice compared to controls. Bradykinin levels were higher in C57BL/6 than in elastase-deficient mice; administration of a bradykinin antagonist protected mice from infection, suggesting that increased vascular permeability mediated by bradykinin is one of the mechanisms through which elastase decreases host tolerance to melioidosis. Collectively, these results demonstrate that absence of neutrophil elastase increases host tolerance, rather than resistance, to infection by minimizing host tissue damage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blotting, Western
  • Burkholderia Infections / enzymology
  • Burkholderia Infections / immunology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Host-Parasite Interactions / immunology*
  • Leukocyte Elastase / immunology*
  • Leukocyte Elastase / metabolism*
  • Lung / microbiology
  • Lung / pathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / enzymology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / immunology*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / microbiology


  • Leukocyte Elastase