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Am J Physiol. 1999 May;276(5):L835-43. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.1999.276.5.L835.

Neutrophil elastase increases MUC5AC mRNA and protein expression in respiratory epithelial cells.

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Division of Pediatric Pulmonary Diseases, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710, USA.


Chronic neutrophil-predominant inflammation and hypersecretion of mucus are common pathophysiological features of cystic fibrosis, chronic bronchitis, and viral- or pollution-triggered asthma. Neutrophils release elastase, a serine protease, that causes increased mucin production and secretion. The molecular mechanisms of elastase-induced mucin production are unknown. We hypothesized that as part of this mechanism, elastase upregulates expression of a major respiratory mucin gene, MUC5AC. A549, a human lung carcinoma cell line that expresses MUC5AC mRNA and protein, and normal human bronchial epithelial cells in an air-liquid interface culture were stimulated with neutrophil elastase. Neutrophil elastase increased MUC5AC mRNA levels in a time-dependent manner in both cell culture systems. Neutrophil elastase treatment also increased MUC5AC protein levels in A549 cells. The mechanism of MUC5AC gene regulation by elastase was determined in A549 cells. The induction of MUC5AC gene expression required serine protease activity; other classes of proteases had no effect on MUC5AC gene expression. Neutrophil elastase increased MUC5AC mRNA levels by enhancing mRNA stability. This is the first report of mucin gene regulation by this mechanism.

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