OBJECTIVE: Neuropeptides from nerve fibres can cause neurogenic inflammation. The potency of these peptides in vitro has led to the hypothesis that enzyme degradative systems are operative in vivo to limit their action. To consider this question neutral endopeptidase (NEP) in labial salivary glands in patients with Sjögren's syndrome was studied. METHODS: Synthesis of NEP mRNA in situ in labial salivary glands was studied using the reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Immunohistochemical staining was used to localise the NEP enzyme protein and its neuropeptide substrates and fluorophotometry to measure the corresponding enzyme activities in saliva. RESULTS: NEP was found in nerve fibres and in perivascular, periductal, and periacinar axon terminal varicosities. Double labelling of PGP 9.5 and NEP confirmed this neuronal localisation of NEP. Although some fibroblast-like cells and occasional intravascular neutrophils were NEP positive, NEP mRNA was not found in labial salivary glands. Patients with Sjögren's syndrome and healthy controls did not have nerves containing NEP or neuropeptides (vasoactive intestinal peptide, substance P, or calcitonin gene related peptide (CGRP)) in lymphocyte foci. Salivary NEP activity was not decreased in patients compared with controls. CONCLUSION: NEP in labial salivary glands is almost totally of neuronal origin and plays a part in proteolytic modulation of neuropeptides in salivary glands and saliva. These regulatory interactions seem to be altered in focal lymphocyte accumulations in Sjögren's syndrome.
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