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Human neutrophil elastase (HNE) is a uniquely destructive serine protease with the ability to unleash a wave of proteolytic activity by destroying the inhibitors of other proteases. Although this phenomenon forms an important part of the innate immune response to invading pathogens, it is responsible for the collateral host tissue damage observed in chronic conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and in more acute disorders such as the lung injuries associated with COVID-19 infection. Previously, a combinatorially selected activity-based probe revealed an unexpected substrate preference for oxidised methionine, which suggests a link to oxida-tive pathogen clearance by neutrophils. Here we use oxidised model substrates and inhibitors to confirm this observation and to show that neutrophil elastase is specifically selective for the di-oxygenated methionine sulfone rather than the mono-oxygenated methionine sulfoxide. We also posit a critical role for ordered solvent in the mechanism of HNE discrimination between the two oxidised forms methionine residue. Preference for the sulfone form of oxidised methionine is especially significant. While both host and pathogens have the ability to reduce methionine sulfoxide back to methionine, a biological pathway to reduce methionine sulfone is not known. Taken to-gether, these data suggest that the oxidative activity of neutrophils may create rapidly cleaved elas-tase “super substrates” that directly damage tissue, while initiating a cycle of neutrophil oxidation that increases elastase tissue damage and further neutrophil recruitment.

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Copyright: © 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (https:// 4.0/).

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.