Cationic proteins alter smooth muscle function by an epithelium-dependent mechanism

A. J. Coyle, W. Mitzner, C. G. Irvin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Using a perfused guinea pig tracheal tube preparation, which allows the selective application of agonists to either the serosal or luminal surface, we have investigated whether two synthetic cationic proteins, poly-L-arginine and poly-L-lysine, can modify epithelium-dependent responses. With an intact epithelium, methacholine was ~150 times less potent when applied intraluminally than when applied extraluminally. This difference was abolished by chemically removing the epithelium with the detergent CHAPS. Intraluminal application of KCl induced a dose-related relaxation of a precontracted trachea, which was also abolished by epithelium removal. Perfusion of the luminal surface with cationic proteins for 1 h (10 μg/ml) increased the potency of intraluminally applied methacholine without modifying the responses to extraluminally applied methacholine. Cationic proteins also attenuated the relaxant effects of intraluminally applied KCl. These effects occurred in the absence of any overt epithelial cell damage. In contrast, when the serosal surface of the trachea was treated with poly-L- arginine, there was no modification of either methacholine-induced contraction or KCl-induced relaxation. The effects of poly-L-arginine were inhibited by coperfusion with the polyanions albumin (10 μg/ml) or heparin (100 μg/ml). In contrast to cationic proteins, intraluminal perfusion with a polyanion, poly-L-aspartate (10 μg/ml), failed to modify either methacholine-induced contraction or KCl-induced relaxation. Our data demonstrate that cationic proteins can modify epithelium-dependent responses in the airways. Although the precise mechanisms are unclear, a role is suggested for a charge-mediated interaction with the respiratory epithelium, resulting in airway smooth muscle dysfunction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1761-1768
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of applied physiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1993
Externally publishedYes


  • airway hyperresponsiveness
  • epithelium
  • epithelium-dependent relaxing factor
  • trachea

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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