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Annu Rev Physiol. 2006;68:563-83.

Chronic effects of mechanical force on airways.

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Physiology Program, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


Airways are embedded in the mechanically dynamic environment of the lung. In utero, this mechanical environment is defined largely by fluid secretion into the developing airway lumen. Clinical, whole lung, and cellular studies demonstrate pivotal roles for mechanical distention in airway morphogenesis and cellular behavior during lung development. In the adult lung, the mechanical environment is defined by a dynamic balance of surface, tissue, and muscle forces. Diseases of the airways modulate both the mechanical stresses to which the airways are exposed as well as the structure and mechanical behavior of the airways. For instance, in asthma, activation of airway smooth muscle abruptly changes the airway size and stress state within the airway wall; asthma also results in profound remodeling of the airway wall. Data now demonstrate that airway epithelial cells, smooth muscle cells, and fibroblasts respond to their mechanical environment. A prominent role has been identified for the epithelium in transducing mechanical stresses, and in both the fetal and mature airways, epithelial cells interact with mesenchymal cells to coordinate remodeling of tissue architecture in response to the mechanical environment.

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