BACKGROUND: The control of airways reactivity is essential to our understanding of disease processes such as asthma. Many studies have examined the neural control of the airways, but more recently there has been evidence to show that the epithelium lining the airways may influence airways reactivity. METHODS: Rabbit tracheal epithelial cells were dispersed with enzymes, grown in primary culture and fixed. Tissue from intact tracheas was also sampled and fixed. Localisation of the vasoactive substances endothelin-1, arginine-vasopressin, and substance P was investigated by immunolabelling techniques. RESULTS: Scattered immunolabelling to endothelin-1, arginine-vasopressin, and substance P was found throughout the cultures (with < 20% of cells staining positively to each antibody). At the ultrastructural level this immunoreactivity was found in the cytoplasmic matrix. In addition, immunoreactivity of intact tissue to endothelin-1, arginine-vasopressin, and substance P was examined and positively staining cells were found to be scattered through the epithelium. CONCLUSIONS: The presence of these vasoactive substances within the epithelium lining the airways supports the view that epithelial cells may provide an additional mechanism in the control of airways reactivity.
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