Effects of N-acetyl-L-cysteine on the membrane vesicle release and growth of respiratory pathogens

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Bacterial infections contribute to the disease progression of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease e.g. by stimulating mucus production in the airways. This increased mucus production and other symptoms are often alleviated when patients are treated with mucolytics such as N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC). Moreover, NAC has been suggested to inhibit bacterial growth. Bacteria can release membrane vesicles (MVs) in response to stress, and recent studies report a role for these proinflammatory MVs in the pathogenesis of airways disease. Yet, until now it is not clear whether NAC also affects the release of these MVs. This study set out to determine whether NAC, at concentrations reached during high-dose nebulization, affects bacterial growth and MV release of the respiratory pathogens non-typeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHi), Moraxella catarrhalis (Mrc), Streptococcus pneumoniae (Spn) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (Psa). We observed that NAC exerted a strong bacteriostatic effect, but also induced the release of proinflammatory MVs by NTHi, Mrc and Psa, but not by Spn. Interestingly, NAC also markedly blunted the release of TNF-α by naive macrophages in response to MVs. This suggests that the application of NAC by nebulization at a high dosage may be beneficial for patients with airway conditions associated with bacterial infections.

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