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Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 1999 May;20(5):872-9.

Activity of abundant antimicrobials of the human airway.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Departments of Internal Medicine, Microbiology, Pediatrics, and Physiology and Biophysics, University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City, Iowa, USA.


Human airways produce several antimicrobial factors; the most abundant are lysozyme and lactoferrin. Despite their likely importance in preventing infection, and their possible key role in the pathogenesis of cystic fibrosis (CF), we know little about their antibacterial activity in the context of the CF airway. We found that abundant airway antimicrobial factors kill common CF pathogens, although Burkholderia was relatively resistant. To study the antibacterial activity, we developed a rapid, sensitive, and quantitative in vitro luminescence assay. Because NaCl concentrations may be elevated in CF airway surface liquid, we tested the effect of salt on antibacterial activity. Activity of individual factors and of airway lavage fluid was inhibited by high ionic strength, and it was particularly sensitive to divalent cations. However, it was not inhibited by nonionic osmolytes and thus did not require hypotonic liquid. The inhibition by ionic strength could be partially compensated by increased concentrations of antibacterial factors, thus there was no one unique salt concentration for inhibition. CF airway secretions also contain abundant mucin and elastase; however, these had no effect on antibacterial activity of lysozyme, lactoferrin, or airway lavage fluids. When studied at low NaCl concentrations, CF and non-CF airway lavage fluids contained similar levels of antibacterial activity. These results suggest approaches toward developing treatments aimed at preventing or reducing airway infections in individuals with CF.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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