Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences

, Volume 72, Issue 19, pp 3637–3652 | Cite as

Airway hydration and COPD

  • Arunava Ghosh
  • R. C. Boucher
  • Robert Tarran


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is one of the prevalent causes of worldwide mortality and encompasses two major clinical phenotypes, i.e., chronic bronchitis (CB) and emphysema. The most common cause of COPD is chronic tobacco inhalation. Research focused on the chronic bronchitic phenotype of COPD has identified several pathological processes that drive disease initiation and progression. For example, the lung’s mucociliary clearance (MCC) system performs the critical task of clearing inhaled pathogens and toxic materials from the lung. MCC efficiency is dependent on: (1) the ability of apical plasma membrane ion channels such as the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) and the epithelial Na+ channel (ENaC) to maintain airway hydration; (2) ciliary beating; and (3) appropriate rates of mucin secretion. Each of these components is impaired in CB and likely contributes to the mucus stasis/accumulation seen in CB patients. This review highlights the cellular components responsible for maintaining MCC and how this process is disrupted following tobacco exposure and with CB. We shall also discuss existing therapeutic strategies for the treatment of chronic bronchitis and how components of the MCC can be used as biomarkers for the evaluation of tobacco or tobacco-like-product exposure.


Airway surface liquid Cystic fibrosis CFTR ENaC Mucus Tobacco smoke 



We thank Ms. Temperance Rowell and Mr. Shawn Terrayah for critical reading of this manuscript, and our colleagues in the Marsico Lung Institute for their insight and useful discussion into CF/COPD over the years. This work was funded by NIH HL108927, HL1108723 and HL120100. Research reported in this publication was in part supported by NIH and the FDA Center for Tobacco Products (CTP). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health or the Food and Drug Administration.

Conflict of interest

A Ghosh has no conflict to declare, R. Tarran is a founder of Spyryx Biosciences and R.C. Boucher is a founder of Parion Sciences.


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© Springer Basel 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cystic Fibrosis Center/Marsico Lung Institute and the Department of Cell Biology and PhysiologyThe University of North CarolinaChapel HillUSA

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