Neutrophil Elastase Increases Airway Epithelial Nonheme Iron Levels

B.M. Fischer, D.A.L. Domowicz, S.O. Zheng, J.L. Carter, N.G. McElvaney, Clifford Taggart, J.R. Lehmann, J.A. Voynow, A.J. Ghio

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23 Citations (Scopus)


Alpha-1-antitrypsin (A1AT) deficiency is characterized by increased neutrophil elastase (NE) activity and oxidative stress in the lung. We hypothesized that NE exposure generates reactive oxygen species by increasing lung nonheme iron. To test this hypothesis, we measured bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) iron and ferritin levels, using inductively coupled plasma (ICP) optical emission spectroscopy and an ELISA, respectively, in A1AT-deficient patients and healthy subjects. To confirm the role of NE in regulating lung iron homeostasis, we administered intratracheally NE or control buffer to rats and measured BAL and lung iron and ferritin. Our results demonstrated that A1AT-deficient patients and rats postelastase exposure have elevated levels of iron and ferritin in the BAL. To investigate the mechanism of NE-induced increased iron levels, we exposed normal human airway epithelial cells to either NE or control vehicle in the presence or absence of ferritin, and quantified intracellular iron uptake using calcein fluorescence and ICP mass spectroscopy. We also tested whether NE degraded ferritin in vitro using ELISA and western analysis. We demonstrated in vitro that NE increased intracellular nonheme iron levels and degraded ferritin. Our results suggest that NE digests ferritin increasing the extracellular iron pool available for cellular uptake.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-339
Number of pages7
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)


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