Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a heterogeneous syndrome associated with abnormal inflammatory immune responses of the lung to noxious particles and gases. Cigarette smoke activates innate immune cells such as epithelial cells and macrophages by triggering pattern recognition receptors, either directly or indirectly via the release of damage-associated molecular patterns from stressed or dying cells. Activated dendritic cells induce adaptive immune responses encompassing T helper (Th1 and Th17) CD4+ T cells, CD8+ cytotoxicity, and B-cell responses, which lead to the development of lymphoid follicles on chronic inflammation. Viral and bacterial infections not only cause acute exacerbations of COPD, but also amplify and perpetuate chronic inflammation in stable COPD via pathogen-associated molecular patterns. We discuss the role of autoimmunity (autoantibodies), remodelling, extracellular matrix-derived fragments, impaired innate lung defences, oxidative stress, hypoxia, and dysregulation of microRNAs in the persistence of the pulmonary inflammation despite smoking cessation.
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