• Autoimmunity;
  • Elastase;
  • Inflammation;
  • Interleukin-18;
  • Neutrophils


Interleukin-18 (IL-18), a member of the IL-1 cytokine superfamily, is an important regulator of both innate and acquired immune responses. We demonstrate here constitutive expression of IL-18 by human neutrophils. Unexpectedly, we observed that neutrophils from peripheral blood or rheumatoid synovial compartments contained not only pro and mature IL-18, but also several novel smaller-molecular-weight IL-18-derived species. Using specific protease inhibitors, and serine protease gene-targeted mice, we demonstrate that these IL-18-derived products arose through caspase-independent cleavage events mediated by the serine proteases, elastase and cathepsin G. Moreover, we report that the net effect of elastase treatment of mature recombinant IL-18 was to reduce its IFN-γ-inducing activity. Thus, human neutrophils contain IL-18 and IL-18-derived molecular species that can arise through novel enzymatic processing pathways. Through cytosolic, membrane or secretory expression of such processing enzymes, together with generation of IL-18 itself, neutrophils likely play a critical role in regulating IL-18 activities during early innate immune responses.