Mast cells are known to accumulate at sites of inflammation and upon activation to release their granule content, e.g. histamine, cytokines and proteases. The secretory leukocyte protease inhibitor (SLPI) is produced in the respiratory mucous and plays a role in regulating the activity of the proteases.
We have used the HMC-1 cell line as a model for human mast cells to investigate their effect on SLPI expression and its levels in cell co-culture experiments, in vitro. In comparison with controls, we found a significant reduction in SLPI levels (by 2.35-fold, p < 0.01) in a SLPI-producing, type II-like alveolar cell line, (A549) when co-cultured with HMC-1 cells, but not in an HMC-1-conditioned medium, for 96 hours. By contrast, increased SLPI mRNA expression (by 1.58-fold, p < 0.05) was found under the same experimental conditions. Immunohistochemical analysis revealed mast cell transmigration in co-culture with SLPI-producing A549 cells for 72 and 96 hours.
These results indicate that SLPI-producing cells may assist mast cell migration and that the regulation of SLPI release and/or consumption by mast cells requires interaction between these cell types. Therefore, a "local relationship" between mast cells and airway epithelial cells might be an important step in the inflammatory response.