Ultrastructural Changes in Human Nasal Cilia Caused by the Common Cold and Recovery of Ciliated Epithelium

Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol. 1992 Dec;101(12):982-7. doi: 10.1177/000348949210101204.


Changes in the ultrastructure of human respiratory cilia caused by the common cold were studied in 12 patients. The nasal mucosa was studied three times: on the first or second day after the beginning of symptoms, and 1 week and 3 weeks after the first biopsy. The damage was most severe at 1 week. The most remarkable finding was the loss of cilia and ciliated cells. However, the ultrastructure was usually normal, without any increase in tubular anomalies, as compared with the normal material of the previous reports. Three weeks after the beginning of the disease the number of cilia and ciliated cells had increased to nearly normal. However, as a sign of regeneration, immature short cilia (0.7 to 2.5 microns in length) were often seen. The ciliary orientation was uniform, dynein arms were normal, and there was no increase in the number of tubular anomalies. The results suggest that the impaired mucociliary function during viral infections is due to the loss of cilia and ciliated cells, rather than to ultrastructural anomalies in the cilia. The development of tubular anomalies and random ciliary orientation may require more extensive exposure to factors affecting ciliary function.

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy
  • Cilia / ultrastructure*
  • Common Cold / pathology*
  • Epithelium / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Microscopy, Phase-Contrast
  • Nasal Mucosa / ultrastructure*