Thioglycollate-elicited mouse peritoneal macrophages were cultured in contact with the mixture of extracellular matrix proteins produced by rat smooth muscle cells in culture. Both live macrophages and their conditioned media hydrolyzed glycoproteins, elastin, and collagen. Live macrophages also degraded extracellular connective tissue proteins secreted by endothelial cells and fibroblasts. The glycoproteins in the matrix markedly inhibited the rate of digestion of the other macromolecules, particularly elastin. When plasminogen was added to the matrix, activation of plasminogen to plasmin resulted in the hydrolysis of the glycoprotein components, which then allowed the macrophage elastase easier access to its substrate, elastin. Thus, although plasmin has no direct elastinolytic activity, its presence accelerated the rate of hydrolysis of elastin and therefore the rate of matrix degradation. These findings may be important in an understanding of disease states, such as emphysema and atherosclerosis, that are characterized by the destruction of connective tissue.

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