Smoking induced changes in the secretory cells of bronchiolar epithelium by facilitating secretion of cross linked glycoprotein mucus may influence the efficiency of mucus-cilia coupling. The functional impact on mucociliary transport in small (peripheral) airways has been studied by comparing data on aerosol deposition and clearance from symptomless cigarette smokers (30 tests, 18 subjects) with data from age matched non-smokers (30 tests, 19 subjects). Gamma camera images, assessed in terms of a penetration index comparing peripheral with inner zone deposition, indicated closely similar initial deposition in the two groups. Alveolar deposition, however, assessed in terms of particle retention at 24 hours, was significantly (p less than 0.01) less in the smokers. Given the similarity of initial deposition, this implies that an increased proportion of small conducting airways are protected by mucociliary defence in the smokers' lungs. Clearance from conducting airways of the peripheral zone in tests with relatively high peripheral deposition (14 tests on smokers, and 12 on non-smokers) nevertheless proceeded at the same rate in smokers as in non-smokers.
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