BACKGROUND: Particulate matter has been shown to stimulate the innate immune system and induce acute inflammation. Therefore, while nanotechnology has the potential to provide therapeutic formulations with improved efficacy, there are concerns such pharmaceutical preparations could induce unwanted inflammatory side effects. Accordingly, we aim to examine the utility of using the proteolytic activity signatures of cysteine proteases, caspase 1 and cathepsin S (CTSS), as biomarkers to assess particulate-induced inflammation.
METHODS: Primary peritoneal macrophages and bone marrow-derived macrophages from C57BL/6 mice and ctss(-/-) mice were exposed to micro- and nanoparticulates and also the lysosomotropic agent, L-leucyl-L-leucine methyl ester (LLOME). ELISA and immunoblot analyses were used to measure the IL-1β response in cells, generated by lysosomal rupture. Affinity-binding probes (ABPs), which irreversibly bind to the active site thiol of cysteine proteases, were then used to detect active caspase 1 and CTSS following lysosomal rupture. Reporter substrates were also used to quantify the proteolytic activity of these enzymes, as measured by substrate turnover.
RESULTS: We demonstrate that exposure to silica, alum and polystyrene particulates induces IL-1β release from macrophages, through lysosomal destabilization. IL-1β secretion positively correlated with an increase in the proteolytic activity signatures of intracellular caspase 1 and extracellular CTSS, which were detected using ABPs and reporter substrates. Interestingly IL-1β release was significantly reduced in primary macrophages from ctss(-/-) mice.
CONCLUSIONS: This study supports the emerging significance of CTSS as a regulator of the innate immune response, highlighting its role in regulating IL-1β release. Crucially, the results demonstrate the utility of intracellular caspase 1 and extracellular CTSS proteolytic activities as surrogate biomarkers of lysosomal rupture and acute inflammation. In the future, activity-based detection of these enzymes may prove useful for the real-time assessment of particle-induced inflammation and toxicity assessment during the development of nanotherapeutics.