The local balance between proteinase inhibitors and proteinases determines local proteolytic activity. Various studies have demonstrated the importance of serine proteinase inhibitors in regulating the activity of serine proteinases that are released by leucocytes during inflammation. Recently it has been shown that these inhibitors may also display functions that are distinct from those associated with the inhibition of leucocyte-derived proteinases. In this review the results of selected studies focusing on three inhibitors of neutrophil elastase, i.e. α1-proteinase inhibitor, secretory leucocyte proteinase inhibitor and elafin, are presented, with the aim of illustrating their possible involvement in the regulation of inflammation, host defence against infection, tissue repair and extracellular matrix synthesis.

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