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Proc Am Thorac Soc. 2006 Nov;3(8):718-25.

Airway epithelial stem cells and the pathophysiology of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

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Department of Cell and Molecular Physiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.


Characteristic pathologic changes in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) include an increased fractional volume of bronchiolar epithelial cells, fibrous thickening of the airway wall, and luminal inflammatory mucus exudates, which are positively correlated with airflow limitation and disease severity. The mechanisms driving general epithelial expansion, mucous secretory cell hyperplasia, and mucus accumulation must relate to the effects of initial toxic exposures on patterns of epithelial stem and progenitor cell proliferation and differentiation, eventually resulting in a self-perpetuating, and difficult to reverse, cycle of injury and repair. In this review, current concepts in stem cell biology and progenitor-progeny relationships related to COPD are discussed, focusing on the factors, pathways, and mechanisms leading to mucous secretory cell hyperplasia and mucus accumulation in the airways. A better understanding of alterations in airway epithelial phenotype in COPD will provide a logical basis for novel therapeutic approaches.

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