Sputum trypsin-like protease activity relates to clinical outcome in cystic fibrosis

J Cyst Fibros. 2020 Jul;19(4):647-653. doi: 10.1016/j.jcf.2019.12.014. Epub 2020 Jan 11.


Background: In cystic fibrosis (CF) airways excessive levels of serine trypsin-like proteases (TLPs) activate the epithelial sodium channel (ENaC) resulting in airways dehydration and promotion of mucus secretion. Despite this the relationship of TLP activity and clinical outcome has not been studied.

Methods: We analysed supernatant (sol) prepared from CF sputum from adult CF patients in two study cohorts (29 and 33 samples, respectively). Protease activities were determined by measuring the hydrolysis of peptide-based substrates or by ELISA. Lung function was assessed by spirometry (FEV1). Mortality data was retrospectively obtained and time in months until death or transplantation used for subsequent survival analysis.

Results: TLP activity inversely correlated with percent predicted FEV1 (r = -0.4, p = 0.03) and was greater in individuals who did not survive beyond 5-years from the time of sample collection. A Kaplan-Meier analysis demonstrated significantly reduced survival (p = 0.04) for individuals with high TLP activity [hazard ratio (HR) of 7.21 per log unit TLP activity (p = 0.03)]. In contrast, neutrophil elastase displayed no significant associations with lung function or patient survival. Similar findings were evident in the second study cohort.

Conclusions: Sputum TLP activity may represent a novel non-invasive biomarker and/or therapeutic target for CF lung disease.

Keywords: Cystic fibrosis; ENaC; Lung function; Patient survival; Trypsin-like proteases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't