Increased intraepithelial (CD103+) CD8+ T cells in the airways of smokers with and without chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Immunobiology. 2013 Feb;218(2):225-31. doi: 10.1016/j.imbio.2012.04.012. Epub 2012 May 4.


T cells are accumulated in the lungs of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients. Intraepithelial T cells, expressing the integrin αE (CD103) β7, and regulatory T cells have been implicated in pathogenesis of the disease. We asked whether COPD patients and smokers have altered frequencies of these T cells and if their phenotypes differ. A total of 40 never-smokers, 40 smokers with normal lung function and 38 COPD patients (GOLD I and II), of which 11 were ex-smokers, were included. T cells in bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid and peripheral blood were analysed for the expression of CD103, FOXP3 and markers of activation and differentiation using multi-colour flow cytometry. Smokers, regardless of airway obstruction, had significantly more CD8+CD103+ cells in their BAL fluid compared to never-smokers but less of those cells were CD27+CD69-. Smokers, in particular those with chronic bronchitis, had a higher percentage of CD4+FOXP3+ T-regulatory BAL cells compared to never-smokers and COPD ex-smokers. Chronic cigarette smoking leads to an accumulation of CD8+ T cells with an altered phenotype in the airway epithelium. The increased frequency of regulatory T cells may influence the ability to regulate smoke-induced inflammation which could be decisive for disease development. Our results further indicate a reversibility of smoke-induced changes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antigens, CD / metabolism
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Separation
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Integrin alpha Chains / metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / etiology
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / immunology*
  • Respiratory Mucosa / immunology*
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Smoking Cessation
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology*


  • Antigens, CD
  • FOXP3 protein, human
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors
  • Integrin alpha Chains
  • alpha E integrins