Background: Because the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) system regulates mucin production in airway epithelium, we hypothesized a role for this system in mucus hypersecretion that occurs in nasal polyposis.
Objective: We examined the relationship between goblet cell hyperplasia, EGFR expression, and inflammatory mediators produced by eosinophils and neutrophils in nasal polyp tissues.
Methods: Nasal polyp tissue samples from 8 patients and nasal turbinate biopsy specimens from 6 normal control subjects were examined for alcian blue/PAS staining, mucin MUC5AC (MUC5AC), and EGFR immunoreactivity and EGFR gene expression (in situ hybridization). We also examined the role of eosinophils and neutrophils in goblet cell hyperplasia.
Results: In control nasal mucosa alcian blue/periodic acid-Schiff- and MUC5AC-stained areas were 18.40% +/- 1.31% and 21.89% +/- 1.43%, respectively. In polyps the alcian blue/periodic acid-Schiff- and MUC5AC-stained areas were 51.30% +/- 5.85% and 52.07% +/- 6.58%, which was significantly larger than that found in control subjects (each comparison, P <.01). Four of 6 control specimens expressed EGFR messenger RNA and protein weakly in the epithelium. In polyps 4 of 8 specimens expressed EGFR gene and EGFR protein strongly; the EGFR-stained area was greater in hyperplastic than in pseudostratified epithelium. TNF-alpha immunoreactivity, expressed in eosinophils, was increased in EGFR-positive polyps compared with EGFR-negative polyps, suggesting a role for TNF-alpha in EGFR expression. Neutrophils were increased in the epithelium of EGFR-positive compared with EGFR-negative polyps, suggesting a role for these cells in mucin expression and in goblet cell degranulation.
Conclusion: These data suggest a role for EGFR cascade in the regulation of goblet cell mucins in nasal polyps. Proof of concept will require clinical studies using selective EGFR inhibitors.