Research Article

A Periciliary Brush Promotes the Lung Health by Separating the Mucus Layer from Airway Epithelia

Science  24 Aug 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6097, pp. 937-941
DOI: 10.1126/science.1223012

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Abstract

Mucus clearance is the primary defense mechanism that protects airways from inhaled infectious and toxic agents. In the current gel-on-liquid mucus clearance model, a mucus gel is propelled on top of a “watery” periciliary layer surrounding the cilia. However, this model fails to explain the formation of a distinct mucus layer in health or why mucus clearance fails in disease. We propose a gel-on-brush model in which the periciliary layer is occupied by membrane-spanning mucins and mucopolysaccharides densely tethered to the airway surface. This brush prevents mucus penetration into the periciliary space and causes mucus to form a distinct layer. The relative osmotic moduli of the mucus and periciliary brush layers explain both the stability of mucus clearance in health and its failure in airway disease.

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