Complement effectors, C5a and C3a, in cystic fibrosis lung fluid correlate with disease severity

PLoS One. 2017 Mar 9;12(3):e0173257. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0173257. eCollection 2017.


In cystic fibrosis (CF), lung damage is mediated by a cycle of obstruction, infection, inflammation and tissue destruction. The complement system is a major mediator of inflammation for many diseases with the effectors C5a and C3a often playing important roles. We have previously shown in a small pilot study that CF sputum soluble fraction concentrations of C5a and C3a were associated with clinical measures of CF disease. Here we report a much larger study of 34 CF subjects providing 169 testable sputum samples allowing longitudinal evaluation comparing C5a and C3a with clinical markers. Levels of the strongly pro-inflammatory C5a correlated negatively with FEV1% predicted (P < 0.001), whereas the often anti-inflammatory C3a correlated positively with FEV1% predicted (P = 0.01). C5a concentrations correlated negatively with BMI percentile (P = 0.017), positively with worsening of an acute pulmonary exacerbation score (P = 0.007) and positively with P. aeruginosa growth in sputum (P = 0.002). C5a levels also correlated positively with concentrations of other sputum markers associated with worse CF lung disease including neutrophil elastase (P < 0.001), myeloperoxidase activity (P = 0.006) and DNA concentration (P < 0.001). In contrast to C5a, C3a levels correlated negatively with worse acute pulmonary exacerbation score and correlated negatively with sputum concentrations of neutrophil elastase, myeloperoxidase activity and DNA concentration. In summary, these data suggest that in CF sputum, increased C5a is associated with increased inflammation and poorer clinical measures, whereas increased C3a appears to be associated with less inflammation and improved clinical measures.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / metabolism*
  • Body Fluids / immunology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Complement C3a / metabolism*
  • Complement C5a / metabolism*
  • Cystic Fibrosis / immunology*
  • Cystic Fibrosis / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / immunology*
  • Inflammation / physiopathology
  • Leukocyte Elastase
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sputum / immunology*
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers
  • Complement C3a
  • Complement C5a
  • Leukocyte Elastase

Grant support

This work was supported by a grant from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, CUNNIO15I0. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.