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The Smoking Gun: Elastin Fragments Drive Emphysema

February 11, 2006
Journal of Clinical Investigation
Researchers at Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts have prevented emphysema in mice exposed to cigarette smoke by treating them with an antibody against lung elastin fragments. The fragments result from the lung-damaging activity of special enzymes called elastases, and stimulate migration of inflammatory cells into the lung. The study, which appears in the March issue of the JCI, suggests that blocking these chemotactic products of elastase activity can reduce inflammation and emphysema in smokers.

Pulmonary emphysema is caused primarily by cigarette smoking, and the underlying cellular mechanisms are thought to involve smoke-induced activation of tissue degrading enzymes known as proteases. Elastases are proteases that specifically degrade the structural protein elastin and include enzymes such as MMP-12 (matrix metalloproteinase -12, also called macrophage metalloelastase), which is secreted by inflammatory cells called macrophages.

Now, researcher A. McGarry Houghton and colleagues at Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts, report that elastases cause emphysema in mice through the generation of pro-inflammatory elastin fragments.

The study appears online on February 9 in advance of print publication in the March issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The authors found that mice that had inhaled pancreatic elastase or who were exposed to cigarette smoke developed elastin fragments in their lungs, macrophage accumulation, and emphysema. However, when the researchers blocked the activity of elastin fragments using a specific anti-elastin antibody, the macrophage numbers were reduced, and the emphysema was prevented in both models. Using cultured human monocytes (macrophage precursor cells), the authors demonstrate that elastin fragments are chemotactic, meaning that they are able to attract inflammatory cells.

The studies suggest that the degradation products of protease activity, in addition to the proteases themselves, may be promising targets for emphysema therapy.


TITLE: Elastin fragments drive disease progression in a murine model of emphysema

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Journal of Clinical Investigation. "The Smoking Gun: Elastin Fragments Drive Emphysema." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 February 2006. <>.
Journal of Clinical Investigation. (2006, February 11). The Smoking Gun: Elastin Fragments Drive Emphysema. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 28, 2017 from
Journal of Clinical Investigation. "The Smoking Gun: Elastin Fragments Drive Emphysema." ScienceDaily. (accessed April 28, 2017).