Experimental progressive emphysema in BALB/cJ mice as a model for chronic alveolar destruction in humans

Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2015 Oct 1;309(7):L662-76. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00214.2015. Epub 2015 Jul 31.


Emphysema, one of the major components of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), is characterized by the progressive and irreversible loss of alveolar lung tissue. Even though >80% of COPD cases are associated with cigarette smoking, only a relatively small proportion of smokers develop emphysema, suggesting a potential role for genetic factors in determining individual susceptibility to emphysema. Although strain-dependent effects have been shown in animal models of emphysema, the molecular basis underlying this intrinsic susceptibility is not fully understood. In this present study, we investigated emphysema development using the elastase-induced experimental emphysema model in two commonly used mouse strains, C57BL/6J and BALB/cJ. The results demonstrate that mice with different genetic backgrounds show disparate susceptibility to the development of emphysema. BALB/cJ mice were found to be much more sensitive than C57BL/6J to elastase injury in both a dose-dependent and time-dependent manner, as measured by significantly higher mortality, greater body weight loss, greater decline in lung function, and a greater loss of alveolar tissue. The more susceptible BALB/cJ strain also showed the persistence of inflammatory cells in the lung, especially macrophages and lymphocytes. A comparative gene expression analysis following elastase-induced injury showed BALB/cJ mice had elevated levels of il17A mRNA and a number of classically (M1) and alternatively (M2) activated macrophage genes, whereas the C57BL/6J mice demonstrated augmented levels of interferon-γ. These findings suggest a possible role for these cellular and molecular mediators in modulating the severity of emphysema and highlight the possibility that they might contribute to the heterogeneity observed in clinical emphysema outcomes.

Keywords: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; cytokines; diffusing capacity; lung function; lymphocytes; macrophage.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma / metabolism
  • Interleukin-17 / metabolism
  • Lymphocytes* / metabolism
  • Lymphocytes* / pathology
  • Macrophages* / metabolism
  • Macrophages* / pathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Pancreatic Elastase / toxicity*
  • Pulmonary Alveoli* / metabolism
  • Pulmonary Alveoli* / pathology
  • Pulmonary Emphysema* / chemically induced
  • Pulmonary Emphysema* / metabolism
  • Pulmonary Emphysema* / pathology
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Species Specificity


  • Il17a protein, mouse
  • Interleukin-17
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Pancreatic Elastase