Bronchial biopsies in asthma. An ultrastructural, quantitative study and correlation with hyperreactivity

Am Rev Respir Dis. 1989 Dec;140(6):1745-53. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm/140.6.1745.


Little is known of the structural changes in mild asthma. We have studied the light and electron microscopic structure of lobar bronchial biopsies taken at fiberoptic bronchoscopy from 11 atopic asthmatics, four of whom were symptomatic and seven of whom were asymptomatic. The former and three of the latter had bronchial hyperresponsiveness to methacholine (PC20 less than 4 mg/ml). Quantitative comparisons were made with biopsies from ten control subjects with normal airway reactivity; five had hay fever and five were nonatopic healthy volunteers. Complete absence of surface epithelium was found in three cases of symptomatic asthma, and stratified squamous epithelium was present in the fourth. A biopsy from one of the healthy control subjects had also lost its surface epithelium. The degree of epithelial loss in all subjects correlated with the degree of airway reactivity (rs = 0.67, p less than 0.001). The reticular lamina of the epithelial basement membrane showed a trend toward thickening in the seven hyperreactive asthmatics (p less than 0.001: median test). There was a tendency to high numbers of inflammatory cells in the lamina propria, but not in the submucosa, of asthmatics, but the differences between groups did not achieve statistical significance. There were significant alterations (px2 less than 0.001) in the proportions of each type of inflammatory cell found in the lamina propria and submucosa of symptomatic asthmatics: an increase of irregularly shaped lymphocytes contributed most to the observed alteration. Where surface epithelium was present, intraepithelial lymphocytes formed the major proportion of intraepithelial "migratory" cells: 64% in normal control subjects, 78% in subjects with hay fever, and 87% in asymptomatic asthmatics.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asthma / pathology*
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Basement Membrane / ultrastructure
  • Biopsy*
  • Bronchi / drug effects
  • Bronchi / physiopathology
  • Bronchi / ultrastructure*
  • Bronchoscopy
  • Epithelium / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Male
  • Methacholine Chloride
  • Methacholine Compounds / pharmacology


  • Methacholine Compounds
  • Methacholine Chloride