This study suggests one mechanism by which alveolar macrophages accumulate in the lung in pulmonary emphysema: elastin fragments generated at the diseased sites are potent chemoattractants for monocytes, the precursors of the macrophages. The most chemotactic elastin fragments have a molecular weight between 10,000 and 50,000 and are active at concentrations as low as 3 nanograms per milliliter. By comparison, elastin fragments with higher molecular weights and desmosines are active only at concentrations greater than 0.3 microgram per milliliter. In addition, preincubation of monocytes with the 10,000- to 50,000-dalton elastin impairs the ability of the cells to migrate toward elastin fragments but not toward activated serum. Fragments of tropoelastin are not chemotactic for monocytes. Because elastin, but not tropoelastin, contains lysyl-derived cross-links, these structures may be the active chemotactic site on the elastin fragments.
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