Tryptase, a protease unique to the mast cell secretory granule, is released in substantial quantities into the respiratory tract of patients with inflammatory disease of the airways. We have investigated the potential of tryptase to act as a mitogen for bronchial epithelial cells and to stimulate release of IL-8 and expression of ICAM-1. Tryptase was isolated from extracts of human lung tissue using ammonium sulphate precipitation, octyl agarose, and heparin agarose chromatography. Purified tryptase stimulated DNA synthesis in the human epithelial cell line H292, as measured by [3H] thymidine incorporation. Maximal growth was observed after 24 h using 25 mU/ml of tryptase (where 1 micron is defined as that which can hydrolyze 1 mumol of the peptide substrate N-alpha-benzoyl-DL-arginine p-nitroanilide hydrochloride per minute at 25 degrees C), a concentration that is likely to be achieved in vivo. Inhibitors of tryptase activity, including leupeptin and benzamidine hydrochloride, significantly decreased tryptase-induced stimulation of DNA synthesis, indicating the requirement for an active catalytic site. Tryptase stimulated a catalytic site-dependent release of IL-8 from epithelial cells after 24 h, and this was associated with up-regulation of ICAM-1 expression, as revealed by FACS analysis. Tryptase may play a critical role in epithelial repair and in the recruitment of granulocytes following mast cell activation.

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