Lymphangioleiomyomatosis is a rare and progressive lung cystic disease, caused by the infiltration of lung parenchyma by mesenchymal cells characterized by co-expression of contractile proteins and melanocytic markers. The pathogenesis of lymphangioleiomyomatosis is determined by mutations affecting tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) genes, with eventual deregulation of the Rheb/mTOR/p70S6K pathway, and the potential therapeutic activity of mTOR inhibitors is currently under investigation. To better understand the molecular mechanisms involved in the pathogenesis of lymphangioleiomyomatosis, we investigated the expression of cathepsin-k (a papain-like cysteine protease with high matrix-degrading activity). The rationale of this choice was based on the recent demonstration that mTOR inhibitors can regulate major functional activities of osteoclasts, including the expression of cathepsin-k. The immunohistochemical study included 12 cases of lymphangioleiomyomatosis. Twelve angiomyolipomas and several lung diseases (sarcoidosis, organizing pneumonia, usual interstitial pneumonia, emphysema) were investigated as controls. In all lymphangioleiomyomatosis cases, strong cathepsin-k immunoreactivity was demonstrated, restricted to lymphangioleiomyomatosis cells. Similar expression levels were observed in renal angiomyolipomas. These observations extend the knowledge regarding the immunophenotypic profile of lymphangioleiomyomatosis cells, and provide a useful new marker for diagnosis in difficult cases (eg, in small transbronchial biopsies). The strong expression of such a potent papain-like cysteine protease in lymphangioleiomyomatosis cells can significantly contribute to the progressive remodelling of lung parenchyma observed in this deadly disease, with eventual formation of lung cysts. It is possible to speculate that mTOR inhibitors may exert part of their action by limiting the destructive remodelling of lung structure.
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