Neutrophil elastase is a serine protease that has been implicated in the pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease. Due to post-translational control of its activation and high expression of its inhibitors in the gut, measurements of total expression poorly reflect the pool of active, functional neutrophil elastase. Fluorogenic substrate probes have been used to measure neutrophil elastase activity, though these tools lack specificity and traceability. PK105 is a recently described fluorescent activity-based probe, which binds to neutrophil elastase in an activity-dependent manner. The irreversible nature of this probe allows for accurate identification of its targets in complex protein mixtures. We describe the reactivity profile of PK105b, a new analogue of PK105, against recombinant serine proteases and in tissue extracts from healthy mice and from models of inflammation induced by oral cancer and Legionella pneumophila infection. We apply PK105b to measure neutrophil elastase activation in an acute model of experimental colitis. Neutrophil elastase activity is detected in inflamed, but not healthy, colons. We corroborate this finding in mucosal biopsies from patients with ulcerative colitis. Thus, PK105b facilitates detection of neutrophil elastase activity in tissue lysates, and we have applied it to demonstrate that this protease is unequivocally activated during colitis.
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