Cell Adhesion Molecules and the Bronchial Epithelium

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The bronchial epithelium is the major barrier between the host and the provoking antigens in bronchial asthma. Recent studies have indicated that the epithelium is a truly stratified structure, with the superficial columnar cells depending on the underlying basal cells for anchorage. Only columnar cells are shed into bronchial lavage fluid. The epithelium is more fragile in asthma and more cells are lost in clusters. Desmosomes appear to be the major structural adhesion mechanism at the plane of cleavage between the columnar cells and the basal cells. The α6- and β4-integrins, which contribute to hemidesmosomes and anchor cells to the underlying basement membrane, are expressed solely by basal cells. The apical aspects of the columnar cells are sealed by tight and intermediate junctions. There is constitutive expression of ICAM-1 and E-selectin in the vasculature of the bronchial mucosa, and ICAM is also present within the epithelium. These findings indicate that the bronchial epithelium is a complex structure that, as a mucosal surface, has constitutive expression of inflammatory cell adhesion molecules to serve normal leukocyte traffic.

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