Epithelial cells and airway diseases

Immunol Rev. 2011 Jul;242(1):186-204. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-065X.2011.01033.x.


The airway epithelial cell is the initial cell type impacted both by inhaled environmental factors, such as pathogens, allergens, and pollutants, and inhaled medications for airway diseases. As such, epithelial cells are now recognized to play a central role in the regulation of airway inflammatory status, structure, and function in normal and diseased airways. This article reviews our current knowledge regarding the roles of the epithelial cell in airway inflammation and host defense. The interactions of inhaled environmental factors and pathogens with epithelial cells are also discussed, with an emphasis on epithelial innate immune responses and contributions of epithelial cells to immune regulation. Recent evidence suggesting that epithelial cells play an active role in inducing several of the structural changes, collectively referred to airway remodeling, seen in the airways of asthmatic subjects is reviewed. Finally, the concept that the epithelium is a major target for the actions of a number of classes of inhaled medications is discussed, as are the potential mechanisms by which selected drugs may alter epithelial function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Airway Remodeling / immunology*
  • Allergens / immunology
  • Animals
  • Asthma / drug therapy
  • Asthma / immunology*
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Bronchodilator Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / immunology
  • Child
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Epithelial Cells / drug effects
  • Epithelial Cells / immunology*
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Epithelium / drug effects
  • Epithelium / immunology*
  • Epithelium / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / drug therapy
  • Hypersensitivity / immunology*
  • Hypersensitivity / physiopathology
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Inflammation / immunology*
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / immunology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Picornaviridae Infections / immunology
  • Picornaviridae Infections / virology
  • Respiratory System / drug effects
  • Respiratory System / immunology*
  • Respiratory System / physiopathology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / immunology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / virology
  • Rhinovirus / immunology
  • Rhinovirus / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / immunology


  • Allergens
  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • Cytokines
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins