1. It is well known that neutrophils act as mediators of tissue injury in a variety of inflammatory diseases. Their histotoxic activity is presently thought to involve proteinases and oxidants, primarily hypochlorous acid (HOCl). This oxidant is also capable of inactivating the specific inhibitor of neutrophil elastase (α1-antitrypsin), thereby favouring digestion of the connective matrix.

2. In the present work, we found that sulphanilamide and some sulphanilamide-related anti-inflammatory drugs such as dapsone, nimesulide and sulphapyridine reduce the availability of HOCl in the extracellular microenvironment of activated neutrophils and prevent the inactivation of α1-antitrypsin by these cells in a dose-dependent manner. The ability of each drug to prevent α1-antitrypsin from inactivation by neutrophils correlates significantly with its capacity to reduce the recovery of HOCl from neutrophils. Five other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs were completely ineffective.

3. Therefore, sulphanilamide-related drugs, i.e. dapsone, nimesulide and sulphapyridine, have the potential to reduce the bioavailability of neutrophil-derived HOCl and, in turn, to favour the α1-antitrypsin-dependent control of neutrophil elastolytic activity. These drugs appear as a well-defined group of agents which are particularly prone to attenuate neutrophil histotoxicity. They can also be viewed as a previously unrecognized starting point for the development of new compounds in order to plan rational therapeutic strategies for controlling tissue injury during neutrophilic inflammation.

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