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Biorheology. 1990;27(3-4):533-45.

Regulation of ciliary activity in the mammalian respiratory tract.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, UCLA School of Medicine, University of California 90024.


A computer-assisted transillumination, photoelectronic technique has been used to measure the beat frequency of cilia of rabbit tracheal cells grown in culture. When ciliated cells are mechanically stimulated with a microprobe the cells respond rapidly by increasing the beat frequency of their cilia. This mechanosensitive response is not limited to the stimulated cell, but is communicated in all directions to neighboring cells. To characterize the progression of this communicated response we used an automated computer-assisted imaging system to examine high-speed films of responding cells. The time it takes for the response to be transmitted between cells is slow (1-3 sec) with each cell responding after a lag-time that is proportional to the distance of the cell from the stimulated cell. We have confirmed that gap junctions are present between cells and that adjacent or non-adjacent ciliated, as well as non-ciliated, cells are electrically coupled. To correlate the mechanosensitive response with intracellular calcium fluxes we have used fura-2, a calcium-specific fluorescent dye, and digital video microscopy. Mechanical stimulation of the cultured ciliated cells, in the presence of extracellular calcium, resulted in an initial increase in intracellular calcium, which was communicated to neighboring cells. Without extracellular calcium, mechanosensitivity of cultured cells was lost and a small decrease in intracellular calcium was observed in the stimulated cell. However, neighboring cells still displayed an increase in intracellular calcium. The time course and general pattern of calcium increase in adjacent cells was similar to the responses in ciliary activity produced by mechanical stimulation. Ciliary beat frequency is also elevated by beta-adrenergic drugs independently of mechanosensitivity. These responses are important because they could provide a dual regulatory mechanism for the control of mucus transport. Adrenergic agonists could provide non-specific control by increasing ciliary activity throughout the airways while mechanosensitivity could provide local control by increasing activity in those regions of heavy mucus load.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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