, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 52-60

Pathology of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

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Abstract

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is one of the leading causes of death and morbidity worldwide. Despite intensive investigation, its pathology and pathophysiology are not well understood. The hallmarks of the disease are irreversible airflow limitation and chronic inflammation. Small airway obstruction due to progressive inflammation and fibrosis, and the loss of elastic recoil mediated by elastolysis and apoptosis equally contribute to pathologic changes. However, it is debated to what extent the obstruction of large airways leads to altered lung function. Three morphologic entities are described in the literature under one disease; chronic bronchitis, obstructive bronchiolitis and emphysema may appear in the same patient at the same time. The authors review pathologic changes observed in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, including acute exacerbations and secondary pulmonary hypertension as severe but common complications of the disease. Furthermore, we detail recent scientific evidences for major cellular and molecular inflammatory pathway activation. These mechanisms result in accelerated apoptosis, remodeling and increased proinflammatory cytokine release. Targeting intracellular pathological changes may lead to the discovery of a new generation of drugs that could reduce chronic obstruction before airway irreversibility is established.