To test the role of elastase in the pathogenesis of emphysema human neutrophil elastase (HNE) was localised by electron microscopy using an immunogold staining technique. Specific localisation of HNE to elastic tissue in emphysema did not occur, but non-specific binding of immunoglobulin G (IgG) to elastic tissue in emphysematous and normal lung tissue, which was completely blocked by the non-immune serum that was homologous to the gold labelled second antibody, was found. HNE was also present, however, in the granules of neutrophils in the same sections. Non-specific labelling associated with elastin was probably due to binding of IgG to the high numbers of hydrophobic and charged regions known to be present in this molecule, and it is concluded that our findings do not support the existence of high concentrations of elastase in association with elastin in emphysematous lung tissue.
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