When the lungs are severely damaged due to severe infection (including with SARS-CoV-2), cancer, or other diseases, airways can fill with fluids—a condition called ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome). The deadly result is that the lung stops exchanging oxygen with the bloodstream. Sometimes, an immune system gone haywire is what causes the damage. Roving members of the immune system called neutrophils infiltrate the lung in large numbers. Neutrophils can recruit more neutrophils. If they detect enough damage, neutrophils commit suicide, spilling out DNA and chemical signals into sticky networks of filaments called Neutrophil Extracellular Traps, or NETs. NETs can be especially toxic to the lung. In mice and hamsters, the drug disulfiram can stop neutrophils from forming NETs, reducing the damage and allowing the lungs to heal.
The videos and images were provided by Jose M. Adrover, a postdoctoral fellow in Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Professor Mikala Egeblad’s laboratory.
Read the related story: Drug halts immune reactions to save damaged lungs