Effects of the cationic protein poly-L-arginine on airway epithelial cells in vitro

Shahida Shahana, Caroline Kampf, Godfried M. Roomans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)
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BACKGROUND: Allergic asthma is associated with an increased number of eosinophils in the airway wall. Eosinophils secrete cationic proteins, particularly major basic protein (MBP).

AIM: To investigate the effect of synthetic cationic polypeptides such as poly-L-arginine, which can mimic the effect of MBP, on airway epithelial cells.

METHODS: Cultured airway epithelial cells were exposed to poly-L-arginine, and effects were determined by light and electron microscopy.

RESULTS: Poly-L-arginine induced apoptosis and necrosis. Transmission electron microscopy showed mitochondrial damage and changes in the nucleus. The tight junctions were damaged, as evidenced by penetration of lanthanum. Scanning electron microscopy showed a damaged cell membrane with many pores. Microanalysis showed a significant decrease in the cellular content of magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium and chlorine, and an increase in calcium. Plakoglobin immunoreactivity in the cell membrane was decreased, indicating a decrease in the number of desmosomes

CONCLUSIONS: The results point to poly-L-arginine induced membrane damage, resulting in increased permeability, loss of cell-cell contacts and generalized cell damage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-148
Number of pages8
JournalMediators of Inflammation
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2002
EventScandinavian Society for Electron Microscopy Meeting - Stockholm, Sweden
Duration: 12 Jun 200115 Jun 2001

Bibliographical note

The technical assistance of Anders Ahlander, Marianne Ljungkvist and Leif Ljung is gratefully acknowledged. This study was supported financially by the Swedish Allergy and Asthma Foundation and the Swedish Care and Allergy Foundation (Vårdal).


  • allergic asthma
  • eosinophils
  • major basic protein
  • poly-t-arginine
  • epithelial damage


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