The damage to pulmonary alveolar epithelial cells that occurs in many inflammatory conditions is thought to be caused in part by phagocytic neutrophils. To investigate this process, we exposed monolayers of purified rat alveolar epithelial cells to stimulated human neutrophils and measured cytotoxicity using a 51Cr-release assay. We found that stimulated neutrophils killed epithelial cells by a process that did not require neutrophil-generated reactive oxygen metabolites. Pretreatment of neutrophils with an antibody (anti-Mo1) that reduced neutrophil adherence to epithelial cells limited killing. Although a variety of serine protease inhibitors partially inhibited cytotoxicity, we found that neutrophil cytoplasts, neutrophil lysates, neutrophil-conditioned medium, purified azurophilic or specific granule contents, and purified human neutrophil elastase did not duplicate the injury. We conclude that stimulated neutrophils can kill alveolar epithelial cells in an oxygen metabolite-independent manner. Tight adherence of stimulated neutrophils to epithelial cell monolayers appears to promote epithelial cell killing.
R H Simon, P D DeHart, R F Todd 3rd