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Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2019 Jan 1;316(1):L255-L268. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00300.2018. Epub 2018 Nov 1.

Early disruption of the alveolar-capillary barrier in a ricin-induced ARDS mouse model: neutrophil-dependent and -independent impairment of junction proteins.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, Israel Institute for Biological Research, Ness-Ziona, Israel.
Department of Biological Regulation, Weizmann Institute of Science , Rehovot , Israel.
Department of Biotechnology, Israel Institute for Biological Research, Ness-Ziona, Israel.


Irrespective of its diverse etiologies, acute lung injury (ALI)/acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) leads to increased permeability of the alveolar-capillary barrier, which in turn promotes edema formation and respiratory failure. We investigated the mechanism of ALI/ARDS lung hyperpermeability triggered by pulmonary exposure of mice to the highly toxic plant-derived toxin ricin. One prominent hallmark of ricin-mediated pulmonary intoxication is the rapid and massive influx of neutrophils to the lungs, where they contribute to the developing inflammation yet may also cause tissue damage, thereby promoting ricin-mediated morbidity. Here we show that pulmonary exposure of mice to ricin results in the rapid diminution of the junction proteins VE-cadherin, claudin 5, and connexin 43, belonging, respectively, to the adherens, tight, and gap junction protein families. Depletion of neutrophils in ricin-intoxicated mice attenuated the damage caused to these junction proteins, alleviated pulmonary edema, and significantly postponed the time to death of the intoxicated mice. Inhibition of matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) activity recapitulated the response to neutrophil depletion observed in ricin-intoxicated mice and was associated with decreased insult to the junction proteins and alveolar-capillary barrier. However, neutrophil-mediated MMP activity was not the sole mechanism responsible for pulmonary hyperpermeability, as exemplified by the ricin-mediated disruption of claudin 18, via a neutrophil-independent mechanism involving tyrosine phosphorylation. This in-depth study of the early stage mechanisms governing pulmonary tissue integrity during ALI/ARDS is expected to facilitate the tailoring of novel therapeutic approaches for the treatment of these diseases.


ARDS; MMPs; alveolar-capillary barrier; junction proteins; ricin


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