INTRODUCTION: Proteinases with a disintegrin and a metalloproteinase domain (ADAMs) have not been well studied in COPD. We investigated whether ADAM9 is linked to COPD in humans and mice.
METHODS: ADAM9 blood and lung levels were measured in COPD patients versus controls, and air- versus cigarette smoke (CS)-exposed wild-type (WT) mice. WT and Adam9-/- mice were exposed to air or CS for 1-6 months, and COPD-like lung pathologies were measured.
RESULTS: ADAM9 staining was increased in lung epithelial cells and macrophages in smokers and even more so in COPD patients and correlated directly with pack-year smoking history and inversely with airflow obstruction and/or FEV1 % predicted. Bronchial epithelial cell ADAM9 mRNA levels were higher in COPD patients than controls and correlated directly with pack-year smoking history. Plasma, BALF and sputum ADAM9 levels were similar in COPD patients and controls. CS exposure increased Adam9 levels in WT murine lungs. Adam9-/- mice were protected from emphysema development, small airway fibrosis, and airway mucus metaplasia. CS-exposed Adam9-/- mice had reduced lung macrophage counts, alveolar septal cell apoptosis, lung elastin degradation, and shedding of VEGFR2 and EGFR in BALF samples. Recombinant ADAM9 sheds EGF and VEGF receptors from epithelial cells to reduce activation of the Akt pro-survival pathway and increase cellular apoptosis.
CONCLUSIONS: ADAM9 levels are increased in COPD lungs and linked to key clinical variables. Adam9 promotes emphysema development, and large and small airway disease in mice. Inhibition of ADAM9 could be a therapeutic approach for multiple COPD phenotypes.