Cathepsin G and neutrophil elastase play critical and non-redundant roles in lung protective immunity against Streptococcus pneumoniae in mice

ABSTRACT Neutrophil serine proteases cathepsin G (CG), neutrophil elastase (NE) and proteinase-3 (PR3) have recently been shown to contribute to killing of Streptococcus pneumoniae in vitro. However, their relevance in lung protective immunity against different serotypes of S. pneumoniae in vivo has not been determined so far. Here, we examined the effect of CG and CG/NE deficiency on the lung host defense against S. pneumoniae in mice. Despite similar neutrophil recruitment, both CG KO mice and CG/NE double KO mice infected with focal pneumonia-inducing serotype 19 S. pneumoniae demonstrated a severely impaired bacterial clearance, which was accompanied by lack of CG and NE but not PR3 proteolytic activity in recruited neutrophils, as determined using fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) substrates. Moreover, both CG and CG/NE KO mice but not wild-type mice responded with increased lung permeability to infection with S. pneumoniae, resulting in severe respiratory distress and progressive mortality. Both neutrophil depletion and ablation of hematopoietic CG/NE in bone marrow chimeras abolished intra-alveolar CG and NE immunoreactivity and led to bacterial outgrowth in the lungs of mice, thereby identifying recruited neutrophils as the primary cellular source of intra-alveolar CG and NE. This is the first study showing a contribution of neutrophil-derived neutral serine proteases CG and NE to lung protective immunity against focal pneumonia-inducing serotype 19 S. pneumoniae in mice. These data may be important for the development of novel intervention strategies to improve lung protective immune mechanisms in critically ill patients suffering from severe pneumococcal pneumonia.