Background High-mobility group box 1 protein (HMGB1) is an ubiquitous nuclear protein that once released in the extracellular space acts as a Damage Associated Molecular Pattern and promotes inflammation. HMGB1 is significantly elevated during Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections and has a clinical relevance in respiratory diseases such as Cystic Fibrosis (CF). Salicylates are HMGB1 inhibitors. To address pharmacological inhibition of HMGB1 with small molecules, we explored the therapeutic potential of pamoic acid (PAM), a salicylate with limited ability to cross epithelial barriers. Methods PAM binding to HMGB1 and CXCL12 was tested by Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy using chemical shift perturbation methods, and inhibition of HMGB1 center dot CXCL12-dependent chemotaxis was investigated by cell migration experiments. Aerosol delivery of PAM, with single or repeated administrations, was tested in murine models of acute and chronic P. aeruginosa pulmonary infection in C57Bl/6NCrlBR mice. PAM efficacy was evaluated by read-outs including weight loss, bacterial load and inflammatory response in lung and bronco-alveolar lavage fluid. Results Our data and three-dimensional models show that PAM is a direct ligand of both HMGB1 and CXCL12. We also showed that PAM is able to interfere with heterocomplex formation and the related chemotaxis in vitro. Importantly, PAM treatment by aerosol was effective in reducing acute and chronic airway murine inflammation and damage induced by P. aeruginosa. The results indicated that PAM reduces leukocyte recruitment in the airways, in particular neutrophils, suggesting an impaired in vivo chemotaxis. This was associated with decreased myeloperoxidase and neutrophil elastase levels. Modestly increased bacterial burdens were recorded with single administration of PAM in acute infection; however, repeated administration in chronic infection did not affect bacterial burdens, indicating that the interference of PAM with the immune system has a limited risk of pulmonary exacerbation. Conclusions This work established the efficacy of treating inflammation in chronic respiratory diseases, including bacterial infections, by topical delivery in the lung of PAM, an inhibitor of HMGB1.
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