Alveolar macrophages play a crucial role in the pathogenesis of emphysema, for which there is currently no effective treatment. Bisphosphonates are widely used to treat osteoclast-mediated bone diseases. Here we show that delivery of the nitrogen-containing bisphosphonate alendronate via aerosol inhalation ameliorates elastase-induced emphysema in mice. Inhaled, but not orally ingested, alendronate inhibits airspace enlargement after elastase instillation, and induces apoptosis of macrophages in bronchoalveolar fluid via caspase-3- and mevalonate-dependent pathways. Cytometric analysis indicates that the F4/80(+)CD11b(high)CD11c(mild) population characterizing inflammatory macrophages, and the F4/80(+)CD11b(mild)CD11c(high) population defining resident alveolar macrophages take up substantial amounts of the bisphosphonate imaging agent OsteoSense680 after aerosol inhalation. We further show that alendronate inhibits macrophage migratory and phagocytotic activities and blunts the inflammatory response of alveolar macrophages by inhibiting nuclear factor-κB signalling. Given that the alendronate inhalation effectively induces apoptosis in both recruited and resident alveolar macrophages, we suggest this strategy may have therapeutic potential for the treatment of emphysema.
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