Damage of the airway epithelium and bronchial reactivity in patients with asthma

Am Rev Respir Dis. 1985 Apr;131(4):599-606. doi: 10.1164/arrd.1985.131.4.599.


We measured bronchial reactivity to inhaled histamine and prepared electron micrographs from bronchial biopsies from 8 asthmatic patients who never smoked (2 females, 6 males, 18 to 62 yr of age). Judging from their clinical histories and the need for medication and long-term follow-up of PEF values, 2 of them had mild asthma, 3 moderately severe, and 3 severe asthma. They had not experienced respiratory infections for at least 2 months prior to the study. The result, obtained from the cumulative dose-response curve, was expressed as the provocative dose (PD20) of histamine producing a 20% fall in forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1). In 5 patients, the PD20 varied from 0.049 mg to 2.234 mg. In the sixth patient, only PD15 could be measured (5.187 mg). In 2 patients, the low initial FEV1 values, because of severe, partly irreversible obstruction, prevented the measurement of bronchial reactivity. Bronchial biopsies were taken with rigid tube bronchoscopy from 3 levels: (1) at the carina of the right upper lobe, (2) at the opening of the right middle or lower lobe, and (3) inside the right lower lobe. The specimens were prepared for both light and electron microscopy. Fresh biopsies showed that asthma patients can have epithelial destruction at all levels of the airways. The ciliated cells appeared to be the most destroyed cell type in the epithelium. Intraepithelial nerves and mast cells were seen. Epithelial destruction in the respiratory tract of the asthma patients with mild to severe bronchial hyperresponsiveness was prominent enough to expose the epithelial nerves for specific or nonspecific stimuli.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Asthma / pathology*
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Bronchi / physiopathology
  • Bronchi / ultrastructure*
  • Bronchial Provocation Tests*
  • Epithelium / physiopathology
  • Epithelium / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Forced Expiratory Volume
  • Histamine
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged


  • Histamine