Airway Epithelial Differentiation and Mucociliary Clearance

Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2018 Nov;15(Suppl 3):S143-S148. doi: 10.1513/AnnalsATS.201802-128AW.


The lung is continuously exposed to particles, toxicants, and microbial pathogens that are cleared by a complex mechanical, innate, and acquired immune system. Mucociliary clearance, mediated by the actions of diverse conducting airway and submucosal gland epithelial cells, plays a critical role in a multilayered defense system by secreting fluids, electrolytes, antimicrobial and antiinflammatory proteins, and mucus onto airway surfaces. The mucociliary escalator removes particles and pathogens by the mechanical actions of cilia and cough. Abnormalities in mucociliary clearance, whether related to impaired fluid secretion, ciliary dysfunction, lack of cough, or the disruption of epithelial cells lining the respiratory tract, contribute to the pathogenesis of common chronic pulmonary disorders. Although mucus and other airway epithelial secretions play a critical role in protecting the lung during acute injury, impaired mucus clearance after chronic mucus hyperproduction causes airway obstruction and infection, which contribute to morbidity in common pulmonary disorders, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis, and primary ciliary dyskinesia. In this summary, the molecular and cellular mechanisms mediating airway mucociliary clearance, as well as the role of goblet cell metaplasia and mucus hyperproduction, in the pathogenesis of chronic respiratory diseases are considered.

Keywords: airway ciliated cells; goblet cell; mucus hyperproduction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cilia / physiology
  • Epithelial Cells / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / etiology*
  • Lung Diseases / metabolism
  • Lung Diseases / pathology
  • Mucins / physiology
  • Mucociliary Clearance / physiology*
  • Mucus / metabolism


  • Mucins