Ion transport by pulmonary epithelia

J Biomed Biotechnol. 2011;2011:174306. doi: 10.1155/2011/174306. Epub 2011 Oct 27.


The lung surface of air-breathing vertebrates is formed by a continuous epithelium that is covered by a fluid layer. In the airways, this epithelium is largely pseudostratified consisting of diverse cell types such as ciliated cells, goblet cells, and undifferentiated basal cells, whereas the alveolar epithelium consists of alveolar type I and alveolar type II cells. Regulation and maintenance of the volume and viscosity of the fluid layer covering the epithelium is one of the most important functions of the epithelial barrier that forms the outer surface area of the lungs. Therefore, the epithelial cells are equipped with a wide variety of ion transport proteins, among which Na⁺, Cl⁻, and K⁺ channels have been identified to play a role in the regulation of the fluid layer. Malfunctions of pulmonary epithelial ion transport processes and, thus, impairment of the liquid balance in our lungs is associated with severe diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and pulmonary oedema. Due to the important role of pulmonary epithelial ion transport processes for proper lung function, the present paper summarizes the recent findings about composition, function, and ion transport properties of the airway epithelium as well as of the alveolar epithelium.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chlorides / metabolism
  • Cystic Fibrosis / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Ion Transport*
  • Potassium / metabolism
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / metabolism*
  • Pulmonary Edema / metabolism
  • Respiratory Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Sodium / metabolism


  • Chlorides
  • Sodium
  • Potassium