The mechanisms leading to airway hyper-responsiveness (AHR) in asthma are still not fully understood. AHR could be produced by hypersensitivity of the airway smooth muscle or hyperreactivity of the airways. This study was conducted to ascertain whether AHR in a murine model of asthma is produced by changes at the level of the airway smooth muscle. Airway smooth muscle responses were characterised in vitro in isolated trachea spirals from naive mice and from an acute ovalbumin (OVA) challenge model of allergic asthma. AHR was investigated in vivo in conscious, freely moving mice. Inflammatory cell influx into the lungs and antibody responses to the antigen were also measured. In vitro study of tracheal airway smooth muscle from naïve mice demonstrated concentration-related contractions to methacholine and 5-HT, but no responses to histamine or adenosine or its stable analogue, 5'-N-ethyl-carboxamidoadenosine. The contractions to 5-HT were inhibited by ketanserin and alosetron indicating involvement of 5-HT(2A) and 5-HT(3) receptors, respectively. In an acute model of allergic asthma, OVA-treated mice were shown to be atopic by inflammatory cell influx to the lungs after OVA challenge, increases in total IgE and OVA-specific IgG levels and contractions to OVA in isolated trachea. In the asthmatic model, AHR to methacholine was demonstrated in conscious, freely moving mice in vivo and in isolated trachea in vitro 24 and 72h after OVA challenge. No AHR in vitro was seen for 5-HT, histamine or adenosine. These results suggest that, in our mouse model of asthma, changes occur at the level of the muscarinic receptor transduction pathway of coupling to airway smooth muscle contraction. These changes are maintained when tissues are removed from the inflammatory environment and for at least 3 days.
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