Cell Jamming in the Airway Epithelium

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Hallmarks of asthma include chronic airway inflammation, progressive airway remodeling, and airway hyperresponsiveness. The initiation and perpetuation of these processes are attributable at least in part to critical events within the airway epithelium, but the underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood. New evidence now suggests that epithelial cells derived from donors without asthma versus donors with asthma, even in the absence of inflammatory cells or mediators, express modes of collective migration that innately differ not only in the amount of migration but also in the kind of migration. The maturing cell layer tends to undergo a transition from a hypermobile, fluid-like, unjammed phase in which cells readily rearrange, exchange places, and flow, to a quiescent, solid-like, jammed phase in which cells become virtually frozen in place. Moreover, the unjammed phase defines a phenotype that can be perpetuated by the compressive stresses caused by bronchospasm. Importantly, in cells derived from donors with asthma versus donors without asthma, this jamming transition becomes substantially delayed, thus suggesting an immature or dysmature epithelial phenotype in asthma.

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