Background: Asthmatic airways are characterized by infiltration with a variety of inflammatory cells such as mast cells and eosinophils. Stem cell factor (SCF) is an important activating and chemotactic factor for both mast cells and eosinophils. In addition, it is a critical growth and differentiation factor for mast cells.
Objectives: To investigate the contribution of SCF to the pathogenesis of asthma, we examined the expression of SCF and its receptor c-kit in bronchial biopsies and bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) specimens obtained from asthmatic subjects (n=13) and non-asthmatic control subjects (n=10).
Methods: SCF and c-kit were detected by in situ hybridization (ISH) and immunocytochemistry (ICC). In order to phenotype the cells expressing SCF and c-kit in asthmatic tissue and BAL cells, combined ISH and ICC were also performed.
Results: There was a significant difference (P<0.001) in the SCF mRNA expression in asthmatic airway epithelium (70.38+/-12.33% positive cells) compared with controls (12.7+/-17.21% positive cells). There was also a significant difference in subepithelial SCF-mRNA expression, being higher in asthmatics (P<0.001). A significant difference was also found in c-kit receptor mRNA expression in asthmatic biopsies both in epithelium (P<0.001) and subepithelium (P<0.05) compared with controls. ICC results were consistent with the ISH for both SCF and c-kit receptor from asthmatics and controls. The SCF and c-kit receptor mRNA and immunoreactivity in cells recovered from bronchial washing were also significantly higher in asthmatics compared with controls (P<0.05). While SCF expression was localized predominantly in the epithelial layer in bronchial biopsy tissues, alveolar macrophages were found to be the major source of SCF in bronchial washing from asthmatic subjects.
Conclusion: The results of this study demonstrate the increased expression of SCF and its receptor, c-kit within human asthmatic airways, which suggests an important role of this cytokine in the pathophysiology of asthma.