Secretory leukocyte protease inhibitor (SLPI) has multiple functions, including inhibition of protease activity, microbial growth, and inflammatory responses. In this study, we demonstrate that mouse SLPI is critically involved in innate host defense against pulmonary mycobacterial infection. During the early phase of respiratory infection with Mycobacterium bovis bacillus Calmette-Guérin, SLPI was produced by bronchial and alveolar epithelial cells, as well as alveolar macrophages, and secreted into the alveolar space. Recombinant mouse SLPI effectively inhibited in vitro growth of bacillus Calmette-Guérin and Mycobacterium tuberculosis through disruption of the mycobacterial cell wall structure. Each of the two whey acidic protein domains in SLPI was sufficient for inhibiting mycobacterial growth. Cationic residues within the whey acidic protein domains of SLPI were essential for disruption of mycobacterial cell walls. Mice lacking SLPI were highly susceptible to pulmonary infection with M. tuberculosis. Thus, mouse SLPI is an essential component of innate host defense against mycobacteria at the respiratory mucosal surface.
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