Relationship of epidermal growth factor receptors to goblet cell production in human bronchi

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2001 Feb;163(2):511-6. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm.163.2.2001038.


To determine the relationship of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) expression to mucin synthesis in human airways, we examined EGFR and MUC5AC expression at both gene and protein levels using in situ hybridization and immunohistochemical analysis in human bronchi. Bronchial mucosal biopsy specimens were obtained from 12 asthmatic subjects and 11 healthy subjects. In asthmatic airways, EGFR mRNA was expressed in the airway epithelium. EGFR immunoreactivity staining patterns varied among the asthmatic airways: staining was positive mainly in goblet cells, in basal cells, or in both. In contrast, healthy airways showed little expression of EGFR mRNA; EGFR immunoreactivity was observed mainly in goblet cells. In parallel to EGFR expression, MUC5AC mRNA expression was greater in asthmatic airways; mucous glycoconjugates that stained positively with Alcian blue/PAS were also increased in asthmatic airways. Ciliated cells were negative for EGFR and MUC5AC both in asthmatic and in healthy subjects at both mRNA and protein levels. There was a significant positive correlation between EGFR immunoreactivity and the area of MUC5AC-positive staining in both asthmatics and healthy subjects. These findings suggest a sequence of events by which EGFR activation is involved in mucin expression in asthmatic airway epithelium.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asthma / pathology*
  • Biopsy
  • Bronchi / pathology*
  • Bronchoscopy
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Female
  • Gene Expression / physiology
  • Goblet Cells / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Male
  • Mucin 5AC
  • Mucins / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics*


  • MUC5AC protein, human
  • Mucin 5AC
  • Mucins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • ErbB Receptors