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Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 2017 Apr;56(4):423-431. doi: 10.1165/rcmb.2016-0193PS.

Evasion of Neutrophil Extracellular Traps by Respiratory Pathogens.

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Departments of 1 Medicine and.
2 Physiology, Development, and Neuroscience, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom.
3 Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; and.
4 Department of Pediatrics, University of California-La Jolla, San Diego, California.


The release of neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) is a major immune mechanism intended to capture pathogens. These histone- and protease-coated DNA structures are released by neutrophils in response to a variety of stimuli, including respiratory pathogens, and have been identified in the airways of patients with respiratory infection, cystic fibrosis, acute lung injury, primary graft dysfunction, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. NET production has been demonstrated in the lungs of mice infected with Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Aspergillus fumigatus. Since the discovery of NETs over a decade ago, evidence that "NET evasion" might act as an immune protection strategy among respiratory pathogens, including group A Streptococcus, Bordetella pertussis, and Haemophilus influenzae, has been growing, with the majority of these studies being published in the past 2 years. Evasion strategies fall into three main categories: inhibition of NET release by down-regulating host inflammatory responses; degradation of NETs using pathogen-derived DNases; and resistance to the microbicidal components of NETs, which involves a variety of mechanisms, including encapsulation. Hence, the evasion of NETs appears to be a widespread strategy to allow pathogen proliferation and dissemination, and is currently a topic of intense research interest. This article outlines the evidence supporting the three main strategies of NET evasion-inhibition, degradation, and resistance-with particular reference to common respiratory pathogens.


Streptococcus; deoxyribonuclease; immune evasion; neutrophil extracellular traps

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