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J Membr Biol. 2006;211(3):139-50. Epub 2006 Nov 7.

Mechanisms of acid and base secretion by the airway epithelium.

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Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute, Oakland, CA 94609, USA.


One of the main functions of the airway epithelium is to inactivate and remove infectious particles from inhaled air and thereby prevent infection of the distal lung. This function is achieved by mucociliary and cough clearance and by antimicrobial factors present in the airway surface liquid (ASL). There are indications that airway defenses are affected by the pH of the ASL and historically, acidification of the airway surfaces has been suggested as a measure of airway disease. However, even in health, the ASL is slightly acidic, and this acidity might be part of normal airway defense. Only recently research has focused on the mechanisms responsible for acid and base secretion into the ASL. Advances resulted from research into the airway disease associated with cystic fibrosis (CF) after it was found that the CFTR Cl(-) channel conducts HCO (3) (-) and, therefore, may contribute to ASL pH. However, the acidity of the ASL indicated parallel mechanisms for H(+) secretion. Recent investigations identified several H(+) transporters in the apical membrane of the airway epithelium. These include H(+) channels and ATP-driven H(+) pumps, including a non-gastric isoform of the H(+)-K(+) ATPase and a vacuolar-type H(+) ATPase. Current knowledge of acid and base transporters and their potential roles in airway mucosal pH regulation is reviewed here.

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