Thorax 59:136-143 doi:10.1136/thorax.2003.004218
  • Airway biology

Rapid and efficient clearance of airway tissue granulocytes through transepithelial migration

  1. J S Erjefält1,
  2. L Uller1,
  3. M Malm-Erjefält2,
  4. C G Persson2
  1. 1Department of Physiological Sciences, Lund University, Lund, Sweden
  2. 2Department of Clinical Pharmacology, Lund University, Lund, Sweden
  1. Correspondence to:
    Dr J S Erjefält
    Department of Physiological Sciences, BMC F10, Lund University Hospital, 221 84 Lund, Sweden;
  • Received 17 January 2003
  • Accepted 16 October 2003


Background: Clearance of tissue granulocytes is central to the resolution of airway inflammation. To date the focus has been on apoptotic mechanisms of cell removal and little attention has been given to alternative processes. The present study explores transepithelial migration as a mechanism of cell clearance.

Method: Guinea pig tracheobronchial airways where eosinophils are constitutively present in the mucosal tissue were studied. A complex topical stimulus (allergen challenge) was applied and the fate of the eosinophils was determined by selective tracheobronchial lavage and histological examination of the tissue.

Results: Within 10 minutes of the allergen challenge, massive migration of eosinophils into the airway lumen occurred together with a reduction in tissue eosinophil numbers. Cell clearance into the lumen continued at high speed and by 30 and 60 minutes the tissue eosinophilia had been reduced by 63% and 73%, respectively. The marked transepithelial migration (estimated maximal speed 35 000 cells/min × cm2 mucosal surface) took place ubiquitously between epithelial cells without affecting epithelial integrity as assessed by transmission and scanning electron microscopy. Eosinophil apoptosis was not detected but occasional cytolytic eosinophils occurred.

Conclusion: This study shows that luminal entry has a remarkably high capacity as a granulocyte elimination process. The data also suggest that an appropriate stimulus of transepithelial migration may be used therapeutically to increase the resolution of inflammatory conditions of airway tissues.