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Am J Pathol. 2003 Jun;162(6):2069-78.

Pathogenesis of mucous cell metaplasia in a murine asthma model.

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Department of Anatomy, Physiology, and Cell Biology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis 95616, USA.


Increased mucus production in asthma is an important cause of airflow obstruction during severe exacerbations. To better understand the changes in airway epithelium that lead to increased mucus production, ovalbumin-sensitized and -challenged mice were used. The phenotype of the epithelium was dramatically altered, resulting in increased numbers of mucous cells, predominantly in the proximal airways. However, the total numbers of epithelial cells per unit area of basement membrane did not change. A 75% decrease in Clara cells and a 25% decrease in ciliated cells were completely compensated for by an increase in mucous cells. Consequently, by day 22, 70% of the total epithelial cell population in the proximal airways was mucous cells. Electron microscopy illustrated that Clara cells were undergoing metaplasia to mucous cells. Conversely, epithelial proliferation, detected with 5-chloro-2-deoxyuridine immunohistochemistry, was most marked in the distal airways. Using ethidium homodimer cell labeling to evaluate necrosis and terminal dUTP nick-end labeling immunohistochemistry to evaluate apoptosis, this proliferation was accompanied by negligible cell death. In conclusion, epithelial cell death did not appear to be the stimulus driving epithelial proliferation and the increase in mucous cell numbers was primarily a result of Clara cell metaplasia.

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