Alpha 1-antitrypsin is present within the primary granules of human polymorphonuclear leukocytes.
Elastase is a potent proteolytic enzyme found within human neutrophil primary granules. Its major inhibitor in the serum is alpha 1-antitrypsin, a protein that is synthesized by hepatocytes but which has recently also been shown to be synthesized by circulating neutrophils. The authors have therefore carried out an immunocytochemical study at the light microscopic and ultrastructural level to determine the intracellular localization of alpha 1-antitrypsin. Double labeling with colloidal gold showed that alpha 1-antitrypsin is localized at the same site as neutrophil elastase, i.e., within primary granules. Secondary granules (detected by labeling for lactoferrin) were unstained for alpha 1-antitrypsin. Elastase and its major inhibitor therefore coexist within the same granule population within human neutrophils. Some difference in their intraorganelle distribution existed at the ultrastructural level (in that elastase tended to be localized at the periphery of the granules whereas alpha 1-antitrypsin was usually diffusely present in the matrix of the granules), but further studies are required to determine whether the two molecules are already complexed with each other within the neutrophil.