Epithelial-mesenchymal interactions in the pathogenesis of asthma
During lung development, repair, and inflammation, local production of cytokines (eg, transforming growth factor-β) and growth factors (eg, epidermal growth factor) by epithelial and mesenchymal cells mediate bidirectional growth control effectively creating an epithelial-mesenchymal trophic unit. In asthma the bronchial epithelium is highly abnormal, with structural changes involving separation of columnar cells from their basal attachments and functional changes including increased expression and release of proinflammatory cytokines, growth factors, and mediator-generating enzymes. Beneath this damaged structure there is an increase in the number of subepithelial myofibroblasts that deposit interstitial collagens causing thickening and increased density of the subepithelial basement membrane. Our recent studies suggest that the extent of epithelial damage in asthma may be the result of impaired epidermal growth factor receptor–mediated repair. In view of the close spatial relationship between the damaged epithelium and the underlying myofibroblasts, we propose that impaired epithelial repair cooperates with the TH2 environment to shift the set point for communication within the trophic unit. This leads to myofibroblast activation, excessive matrix deposition, and production of mediators that propagate and amplify the remodeling responses throughout the airway wall.