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Proc Am Thorac Soc. 2004;1(1):47-53.

Submucosal glands and airway defense.

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Cystic Fibrosis Research Laboratory, Room 450, Building 420, Sierra Mall, Main Quad, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-2130, USA.


Most airway mucus is produced by submucosal glands in response to neural signals. Gland mucus traps microbes, inhibits their replication, and clears them from the airways. In cystic fibrosis mucus clearance is compromised, allowing pathogens to persist in static mucus. These trigger an influx of inflammatory cells, but optimal effectiveness of inflammation, and especially its resolution, also requires effective mucus clearance. Our objective is to understand the basis for defective mucus clearance in cystic fibrosis. We discovered that in subjects with cystic fibrosis, submucosal gland secretion in response to agents that elevate intracellular cyclic AMP level is completely lost and mucus stimulated by elevating intracellular Ca2+ level is thicker. We hypothesize that loss of functional cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator from gland serous cells renders them unable to secrete anions and fluid in response to any stimulus, resulting in thickened gland mucus that can be tethered to the gland ducts. In primary ciliary dyskinesias, mucus is normal, but the dysfunctional cilia lining the gland ducts may also lead to inadequate clearance of mucus from glands. Thus, understanding of lung pathology in each disease may require that an improved understanding of gland structure and function be added to our rapidly growing understanding of surface epithelia.

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