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J Clin Invest. Sep 15, 1998; 102(6): 1125–1131.
PMCID: PMC509095

Coordinated clearance of periciliary liquid and mucus from airway surfaces.


Airway surface liquid is comprised of mucus and an underlying, watery periciliary liquid (PCL). In contrast to the well-described axial transport of mucus along airway surfaces via ciliary action, theoretical analyses predict that the PCL is nearly stationary. Conventional and confocal microscopy of fluorescent microspheres and photoactivated fluorescent dyes were used with well-differentiated human tracheobronchial epithelial cell cultures exhibiting spontaneous, radial mucociliary transport to study the movements of mucus and PCL. These studies showed that the entire PCL is transported at approximately the same rate as mucus, 39.2+/-4.7 and 39.8+/-4.2 micrometer/sec, respectively. Removing the mucus layer reduced PCL transport by > 80%, to 4.8+/-0.6 micrometer/sec, a value close to that predicted from theoretical analyses of the ciliary beat cycle. Hence, the rapid movement of PCL is dependent upon the transport of mucus. Mucus-dependent PCL transport was spatially uniform and exceeded the rate expected for pure frictional coupling with the overlying mucus layer; hence, ciliary mixing most likely accelerates the diffusion of momentum from mucus into the PCL. The cephalad movement of PCL along airway epithelial surfaces makes this mucus-driven transport an important component of salt and water physiology in the lung in health and disease.

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