Airway basal stem cells: a perspective on their roles in epithelial homeostasis and remodeling.
The small airways of the human lung undergo pathological changes in pulmonary disorders, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, bronchiolitis obliterans and cystic fibrosis. These clinical problems impose huge personal and societal healthcare burdens. The changes, termed 'pathological airway remodeling', affect the epithelium, the underlying mesenchyme and the reciprocal trophic interactions that occur between these tissues. Most of the normal human airway is lined by a pseudostratified epithelium of ciliated cells, secretory cells and 6-30% basal cells, the proportion of which varies along the proximal-distal axis. Epithelial abnormalities range from hypoplasia (failure to differentiate) to basal- and goblet-cell hyperplasia, squamous- and goblet-cell metaplasia, dysplasia and malignant transformation. Mesenchymal alterations include thickening of the basal lamina, smooth muscle hyperplasia, fibrosis and inflammatory cell accumulation. Paradoxically, given the prevalence and importance of airway remodeling in lung disease, its etiology is poorly understood. This is due, in part, to a lack of basic knowledge of the mechanisms that regulate the differentiation, maintenance and repair of the airway epithelium. Specifically, little is known about the proliferation and differentiation of basal cells, a multipotent stem cell population of the pseudostratified airway epithelium. This Perspective summarizes what we know, and what we need to know, about airway basal cells to evaluate their contributions to normal and abnormal airway remodeling. We contend that exploiting well-described model systems using both human airway epithelial cells and the pseudostratified epithelium of the genetically tractable mouse trachea will enable crucial discoveries regarding the pathogenesis of airway disease.
Rock, JR; Randell, SH; Hogan, BLM
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