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Relationship between inflammatory cells and structural changes in the lungs of asymptomatic and never smokers: a biopsy study
  1. K Amin1,2,
  2. A Ekberg-Jansson3,
  3. C-G Löfdahl4,
  4. P Venge1
  1. 1Department of Medical Sciences, University of Uppsala, Uppsala, Sweden
  2. 2Department of Genetics and Pathology, University of Uppsala
  3. 3Department of Respiratory Medicine, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Göteborg, Sweden
  4. 4Department of Respiratory Medicine, University Hospital, Lund, Sweden
  1. Correspondence to:
    Dr K Amin, Department of Medical Sciences, Clinical Chemistry, Uppsala University, SE-751 85 Uppsala, Sweden; kawa.amin{at}


Background: A study was undertaken to investigate the relationship between inflammatory cells and structural changes in the mucosa of the airways in an epidemiological sample of a group of asymptomatic smokers (smokers who had never sought medical attention for respiratory problems) and in non-smoking subjects.

Methods: Bronchial biopsy specimens were taken from 29 smokers and 16 never smokers and stained with monoclonal antibodies HNL, EPO, AA1, CD68 in order to identify neutrophils, eosinophils, mast cells, and macrophages, respectively. The biopsy specimens were also stained with monoclonal antibodies to the cytokines interleukin (IL)-1β and IL-8. Structural changes were identified by staining the biopsy specimens with antibodies to tenascin and laminin and by evaluating the condition of the epithelial layer.

Results: The numbers of all inflammatory cells and of cytokine staining cells were significantly increased in smokers. The thickness of the tenascin and laminin layers was increased in the smoking group and the integrity of the epithelial layer was significantly reduced. In smokers the epithelial integrity was negatively correlated with the number of eosinophils and macrophages. The thickness of the tenascin and laminin layers was positively correlated with AA1 and EPO positive cells only.

Conclusion: High numbers of inflammatory cells are present in the bronchial mucosa of asymptomatic smokers which have a clear relationship with the impaired epithelial integrity. The increased thickness of the laminin and tenascin layers in these subjects was strongly related to the presence of eosinophils and mast cells, suggesting a role for these cells in tissue remodelling of the airways of smokers.

  • smoking
  • bronchial biopsies
  • inflammatory cells
  • basement membrane markers
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