Subepithelial fibrosis and degradation of the bronchial extracellular matrix in cystic fibrosis

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 1998 Aug;158(2):580-8. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm.158.2.9707126.


Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease caused by mutations of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator gene. Chronic inflammation and proteolysis lead to progressive damage of the bronchial wall. Extracellular matrix determines the structural organization and the mechanical properties of lung airways. It was thus examined in nine patients with cystic fibrosis (six bronchial biopsies and three lobectomies) in order to assess its level of alteration. The submucosal changes in matrix protein distribution were analyzed by immunochemistry and electron microscopy: the subepithelial basal lamina was thinned; an acellular collagen fiber layer composed of interstitial collagens (types I and III) subtended by tenascin and devoid of elastin-associated microfibrils was deposited beneath the basal lamina; this dense fibrous deposit generally formed a thick layer and could extend into the bronchial wall; the bronchial elastic framework lost arborescent distribution and appeared slender, packed, or lacunar; ultrastructural observation gave evidence for elastic and collagenic fiber lysis. Proteolytic activity is probably the major cause of matrix degradation. Fibrosis appears as a repair process rather than as an active fibrogenesis. The reversibility of extracellular matrix alterations is an important challenge and various interventions such as anti-inflammatory treatments can be targeted to halt or reverse this degradation process.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Basement Membrane / pathology
  • Basement Membrane / ultrastructure
  • Bronchi / pathology*
  • Bronchi / ultrastructure
  • Child
  • Cystic Fibrosis / pathology*
  • Extracellular Matrix / pathology*
  • Extracellular Matrix / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Fibrosis
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male