Reduced epithelial expression of secretory component in small airways correlates with airflow obstruction in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2001 Jan;163(1):185-94. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm.163.1.9912137.


The epithelial polymeric immunoglobulin receptor/transmembrane secretory component (pIgR/SC) transports into secretions polymeric immunoglobulin A (pIgA), which is considered the first line of defense of the respiratory tract. The present study, done with quantitative immunohistochemistry, evaluated epithelial expression of secretory component (SC) and Clara cell protein (CC16) and neutrophil infiltration into the airways of eight patients with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who were undergoing lung transplantation, as compared with these processes in six nonsmoking patients with pulmonary hypertension who were used as controls and in lung specimens from five smokers without chronic bronchitis. Staining for SC was significantly decreased in the COPD patients as compared with the controls, both in large (mean optical density [MOD]: 23.4 [range: 21.1 to 27.8] versus 42.2 [range: 28.2 to 49.3], p = 0.003) and in small airways (MOD: 30.8 [range: 20.3 to 39.4] versus 41.5 [range: 39.2 to 46.2], p = 0.003). SC expression in small airways correlated strongly with functional parameters such as FEV1 (Kendall's tau (K) = 0.76, p = 0.008), FVC (K = 0.64, p = 0.03), and midexpiratory flow at 50% of VC (MEF50) (K = 0.74, p = 0.01). The reduced expression of SC in large airways correlated with neutrophil infiltration in submucosal glands (K = -0.47, p = 0.03). Expression of CC16 in the bronchial epithelium of COPD patients was also significantly decreased as compared with that of controls, especially in small airways (MOD: 28.3 [range: 26.8 to 32.4] versus 45.8 [range: 40.7 to 56.0], p = 0.002), but no correlation was observed with lung function tests. In conclusion, this study shows that reduced expression of SC in airway epithelium is associated with airflow obstruction and neutrophil infiltration in severe COPD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Epithelium / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung / metabolism*
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / immunology
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / metabolism*
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neutrophil Infiltration
  • Protein Biosynthesis*
  • Secretory Component / biosynthesis*
  • Smoking / metabolism
  • Uteroglobin*


  • SCGB1A1 protein, human
  • Secretory Component
  • Uteroglobin