Nuclear factor-kappa B is activated in alveolar macrophages from patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome

Crit Care Med. 1996 Aug;24(8):1285-92. doi: 10.1097/00003246-199608000-00004.


Objective: The expression of proinflammatory cytokines is rapidly increased in experimental models of the acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), in patients at risk for ARDS, and in patients with established ARDS. Because multiple cytokines are present in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid, a common, proximal activation mechanism may operate in these settings. The proinflammatory cytokines whose expression is increased in the lungs of patients with ARDS have binding sequences in their enhancer/promoter regions for transcriptional regulatory proteins, such as nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kappa B), nuclear factor-IL6 (NF-IL6), cyclic adenosine monophosphate responsive element binding protein, serum protein-1, and activating protein-1. To test the hypothesis that activation of one or more of these nuclear transcriptional regulatory factors might provide a common mechanism for the simultaneous expression of multiple cytokine genes in the setting of ARDS, we measured activation of these factors in alveolar macrophages from patients with ARDS and from controls.

Design: Prospective, clinical study.

Setting: Medical and surgical intensive care units at a university hospital and a county hospital.

Patients: Twelve patients, six with established ARDS and six control patients without lung injury.

Interventions: Patients with ARDS and controls underwent fiberoptic bronchoscopy and bronchoalveolar lavage. Alveolar macrophages were isolated from lavage fluid and the nuclear proteins were extracted. Activation of transcriptional factors NF-kappa B, NF-IL6, cyclic adenosine monophosphate responsive element binding protein, activating protein-1, and serum protein-1 was determined using an electrophoretic mobility shift assay, followed by densitometry of the autoradiographed gels.

Measurements and main results: There were no significant differences in gender, age, tobacco smoking, Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation II score, quantity of lavage fluid, or number of alveolar macrophages in lavage specimens in the patient groups. Acute Lung Injury score and the Pao2/Fio2 ratio differed significantly between controls and ARDS patients: 0.46 +/- 0.17 vs. 2.74 +/- 0.14 (p < .0001) and 310 +/- 45 torr (41.3 +/- 6.0 kPa) vs. 150 +/- 11 torr (21.3 +/- 1.5 kPa) (p < .006), respectively. The mean Fio2 of the control patients was not significantly different from the mean Fio2 of ARDS patients: 0.47 +/- 0.11 vs. 0.55 +/- 0.6 (p = .53). Patients with ARDS had significantly (p < .02) increased activation of NF-kappa B in alveolar macrophages compared with patients without the syndrome. There was no evidence of increased activation of the transcriptional factors activating protein-1, serum protein-1, NF-IL6, or cyclic adenosine monophosphate responsive element binding protein in alveolar macrophages from ARDS vs. control patients.

Conclusions: These experiments demonstrated increased in vivo activation of the nuclear transcriptional regulatory factor NF-kappa B (but not NF-IL6, cyclic adenosine monophosphate responsive element binding protein, activating protein-1, or serum protein-1) in alveolar macrophages from patients with ARDS. Because binding sequences for NF-kappa B are present in the enhancer/promoter sequences of multiple proinflammatory cytokines, activation of NF-kappa B may contribute to the increased expression of multiple cytokines in the lung in the setting of established ARDS.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Base Sequence
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Macrophages, Alveolar / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • NF-kappa B / genetics
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / genetics
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / metabolism*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Transcriptional Activation


  • NF-kappa B