Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program




First Thesis Advisor

Kenneth L. Rock, MD


Cell Death, Cathepsin B, Cathepsins, Interleukin-1beta, Inflammasomes


Dissertations, UMMS; Cell Death; Cathepsin B; Cathepsins; Interleukin-1beta; Inflammasomes


Sterile particles underlie the pathogenesis of numerous inflammatory diseases. These diseases can often become chronic and debilitating. Moreover, they are common, and include silicosis (silica), asbestosis (asbestos), gout (monosodium urate), atherosclerosis (cholesterol crystals), and Alzeihmer’s disease (amyloid Aβ). Central to the pathology of these diseases is a repeating cycle of particle-induced cell death and inflammation. Macrophages are the key cellular mediators thought to drive this process, as they are especially sensitive to particle-induced cell death and they are also the dominant producers of the cytokine responsible for much of this inflammation, IL-1β. In response to cytokines or microbial cues, IL-1β is synthesized in an inactive form (pro-IL-1β) and requires an additional signal to be secreted as an active cytokine. Although a multimolecular complex, called the NLRP3 inflammasome, controls the activation/secretion of IL-1β (and has been thought to also control cell death) in response to particles in vitro, the in vivo inflammatory response to particles occurs independently of inflammasomes. Therefore, I sought to better understand the mechanisms governing IL-1β production and cell death in response to particles, focusing specifically on the role of lysosomal cathepsin proteases. Inhibitor studies have suggested that one of these proteases, cathepsin B, plays a role in promoting inflammasome activation subsequent to particle-induced lysosomal damage, however genetic models of cathepsin B deficiency have argued otherwise. Through the use of inhibitors, state-of-the-art biochemical tools, and multi-cathepsin-deficient genetic models, I found that multiple redundant cathepsins promote pro-IL-1β synthesis as well as particle-induced NLRP3 activation and cell death. Importantly, I also found that particle-induced cell death does not depend on inflammasomes, suggesting that this may be why inflammasomes do not contribute to particle-induced inflammation in vivo. Therefore, my observations suggest that cathepsins may be multifaceted therapeutic targets involved in the two key pathological aspects of particle-induced inflammatory disease, IL-1β production and cell death.