Relation of epidermal growth factor receptor expression to goblet cell hyperplasia in nasal polyps

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2000 Oct;106(4):705-12. doi: 10.1067/mai.2000.109823.


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.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Movement
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • ErbB Receptors / biosynthesis*
  • ErbB Receptors / genetics
  • Gene Expression
  • Goblet Cells / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Hyperplasia / metabolism
  • Mucins / genetics
  • Nasal Polyps / metabolism*
  • Nasal Polyps / pathology*
  • Neutrophils / cytology
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / analysis
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / immunology


  • Mucins
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • ErbB Receptors