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1.  Ex Vivo Sputum Analysis Reveals Impairment of Protease-dependent Mucus Degradation by Plasma Proteins in Acute Asthma 
Rationale: Airway mucus plugs, composed of mucin glycoproteins mixed with plasma proteins, are an important cause of airway obstruction in acute severe asthma, and they are poorly treated with current therapies.
Objectives: To investigate mechanisms of airway mucus clearance in health and in acute severe asthma.
Methods: We collected airway mucus from patients with asthma and nonasthmatic control subjects, using sputum induction or tracheal aspiration. We used rheological methods complemented by centrifugation-based mucin size profiling and immunoblotting to characterize the physical properties of the mucus gel, the size profiles of mucins, and the degradation products of albumin in airway mucus.
Measurements and Main Results: Repeated ex vivo measures of size and entanglement of mucin polymers in airway mucus from nonasthmatic control subjects showed that the mucus gel is normally degraded by proteases and that albumin inhibits this degradation. In airway mucus collected from patients with asthma at various time points during acute asthma exacerbation, protease-driven mucus degradation was inhibited at the height of exacerbation but was restored during recovery. In immunoblots of human serum albumin digested by neutrophil elastase and in immunoblots of airway mucus, we found that albumin was a substrate of neutrophil elastase and that products of albumin degradation were abundant in airway mucus during acute asthma exacerbation.
Conclusions: Rheological methods complemented by centrifugation-based mucin size profiling of airway mucins in health and acute asthma reveal that mucin degradation is inhibited in acute asthma, and that an excess of plasma proteins present in acute asthma inhibits the degradation of mucins in a protease-dependent manner. These findings identify a novel mechanism whereby plasma exudation may impair airway mucus clearance.
doi:10.1164/rccm.200807-1056OC
PMCID: PMC2724713  PMID: 19423716
airway mucus; rheology; neutrophil elastase; plasma; asthma exacerbation
2.  MUC5B Is the Major Mucin in the Gel Phase of Sputum in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease 
Rationale: Overproduction of mucus is a contributory factor in the progression of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The polymeric mucins are major macromolecules in the secretion. Therefore, we hypothesized that the polymeric mucin composition or properties may be different in the sputum from individuals with COPD and smokers without airflow obstruction.
Objectives: To determine the major polymeric mucins in COPD sputum and whether these are different in the sputum from individuals with COPD compared with that from smokers without airflow obstruction.
Methods: The polymeric mucin composition of sputum from patients with COPD and smokers without airflow obstruction was analyzed by Western blotting analysis. The tissue localization of the mucins was determined by immunohistochemistry, and their size distribution was analyzed by rate–zonal centrifugation.
Measurements and Main Results: MUC5AC and MUC5B were the major mucins. MUC5AC was the predominant mucin in the smoker group, whereas MUC5B was more abundant from the patients with COPD, with a significant difference in the ratio of MUC5B to MUC5AC (P = 0.004); this ratio was correlated with FEV1 in the COPD group (r = 0.63; P = 0.01). The lower-charged glycosylated form of MUC5B was more predominant in COPD (P = 0.012). No significant associations were observed with respect to sex, age, or pack-year history. In both groups, MUC5AC was produced by surface epithelial cells and MUC5B by submucosal gland cells. Finally, there was a shift toward smaller mucins in the COPD group.
Conclusions: Our data indicate that there are differences in mucin amounts and properties between smokers with and without COPD. Further studies are needed to examine how this may impact disease progression.
doi:10.1164/rccm.200803-391OC
PMCID: PMC2643221  PMID: 18776153
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; mucus; mucin; pathophysiology

Results 1-2 (2)