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Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 2004 Feb;30(2):193-201. Epub 2003 Jul 18.

Neutrophil defensins enhance lung epithelial wound closure and mucin gene expression in vitro.

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Department of Pulmonology, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, The Netherlands.


Human airways are frequently exposed to potentially harmful agents that cause tissue injury. Upon such injury, a repair process is initiated that comprises cell migration, proliferation, and differentiation. We have previously shown that human neutrophil defensins (human neutrophil peptides 1-3 [HNP1-3]) induce airway epithelial cell proliferation. Because of the role of cell proliferation in epithelial wound repair, we investigated the effect of HNP1-3 on airway epithelial wound closure and mucin gene expression in vitro. Using NCI-H292 airway epithelial cell cultures, we demonstrated that HNP1-3 cause a dose- and time-dependent increase of wound closure as well as increased cell migration. Furthermore, HNP1-3 caused a biphasic activation of the mitogen-activated protein kinase extracellular-regulated kinase 1 and 2 (ERK1/2). Both the effects of HNP1-3 on wound closure and ERK1/2 activation were blocked by specific inhibitors of the mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase MEK, whereas inhibitors of epidermal growth factor receptor tyrosine kinase, phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase, and Src did block defensin-enhanced wound closure but not ERK1/2 activation. Finally, HNP1-3 increased mRNA encoding the mucins MUC5B and MUC5AC, suggesting a role for defensins in mucous cell differentiation. These results indicate that neutrophil defensins increase epithelial wound repair in vitro, which involves migration and proliferation, and mucin production. Neutrophil defensin-enhanced wound repair appears to require epidermal growth factor receptor activation and downstream signaling pathways.

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