Epithelial cells and fibroblasts: structural repair and remodelling in the airways

Paediatr Respir Rev. 2004;5 Suppl A:S35-40. doi: 10.1016/s1526-0542(04)90008-5.


Extensive lesions and changes in the architecture of the airway walls are commonly described in patients with respiratory infections, asthma, chronic bronchitis and interstitial lung diseases. Current knowledge identifies in airway epithelial cells and in fibroblasts the two cell types mainly involved in tissue repair after injury. During inflammatory respiratory disorders, extensive injury of airway epithelium may occur, with shedding of a large sheet of damaged cells in the bronchial and alveolar lumen but also with activation of the surviving epithelial cells and of the underlying fibroblasts. Indeed, besides acting as a physical and functional barrier to external agents, the epithelial surface of the bronchi has the capability to modulate the repair processes through the secretion of extracellular matrix proteins and the interaction with interstitial fibroblasts. Besides releasing pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines, the surviving epithelial cells and the underlying fibroblasts secrete factors contributing to airway repair, including the formation of the provisional extracellular matrix. This is indeed the substrate to which the epithelial cells at the edge of the lesion can attach to migrate in order to reconstitute the surface layer. In these processes airway epithelial cells receive the support of bronchial wall fibroblasts which actively release cytokines stimulating epithelial cell functions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Movement
  • Child
  • Epithelial Cells / physiology*
  • Extracellular Matrix / physiology
  • Fibroblasts / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Lung / physiology*
  • Regeneration
  • Wound Healing