The disruption of the epithelial mesenchymal trophic unit in COPD

Ali R. Behzad, John E. McDonough, Nazgol Seyednejad, James C. Hogg, David C. Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Progression of COPD is associated with a measurable increase in small airway wall thickness resulting from a repair and remodeling process that involves fibroblasts of the epithelial mesenchymal trophic unit (EMTU). The present study was designed to examine the organization of fibroblasts within the lamina propria of small airways with respect to their contacts with the epithelium and with each other in persons with COPD. Transmission electron microcopy (TEM) and three-dimensional (3D) reconstructions of serial TEM sections were used to estimate the frequency and determine the nature of the contacts between the epithelium and fibroblasts within the EMTU in small airways from 5 controls (smokers with normal lung function), from 6 persons with mild (GOLD-1) and 5 with moderate (GOLD-2) COPD. In airways from control lungs fibroblasts make frequent contact with cytoplasmic extensions of epithelial cells through apertures in the epithelial basal lamina, but the frequency of these fibroblast-epithelial contacts is reduced in both mild and moderate COPD compared to controls (p < 0.01). The 3D reconstructions showed that the cytoplasmic extensions of lamina propria fibroblasts form a reticulum with fibroblast-fibroblast contacts in an airway from a control subject but this reticulum may be reorganized in airways of COPD patients. Development of COPD is associated with significant disruption of the EMTU due to a reduction of contacts between fibroblasts and the epithelium.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)421-431
Number of pages11
JournalCOPD: Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2009


  • Bronchiolar epithelium
  • Electron microscopy
  • Fibroblasts
  • Lamina propria

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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