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Innate Host Defense of the Lung: Effects of Lung-lining Fluid pH


Lung-lining fluid (LLF) is a primary constituent of the pulmonary host defense system. It is distributed continuously throughout the respiratory tract but is heterogeneous regarding its chemistry and physiology between the conducting airways and alveoli. The conducting airways are lined with airway surface liquid (ASL), a mucus gel-aqueous sol complex that interacts functionally with epithelial cilia as the mucociliary escalator. The alveoli are lined with alveolar subphase fluid (AVSF) and pulmonary surfactant. AVSF sterility is maintained in part by the phagocytic activity of resident alveolar macrophages. Normal ASL and AVSF are both more acidic than blood plasma. However, the details of acid-base regulation differ between the two media. Appreciable transepithelial acid-base flux is possible across the airway epithelium, whereas the alveolar epithelium is relatively impermeable to transepithelial acid-base flux. Moreover, one must consider the influence of resident macrophages on AVSF pH. Resident macrophages occupy a sizable fraction of AVSF by volume and are a substantial source of metabolic H+. The buffering capacities of ASL and AVSF probably are largely due to secreted peptides (e.g., ASL mucins and AVSF surfactant proteins). Acid-base exchange between the extracellular hydrophase and intracellular buffering systems of resident macrophages represents an additional buffer pool for AVSF. The pH of ASL and AVSF can be depressed by disease or inflammation. Low pH is predicted to suppress microbe clearance from the airways and alveoli, increase pathogen survival in both regions, and alter mediator release by resident macrophages and recruited leukocytes thereby increasing the propensity for bystander cell injury. Overall, ASL/AVSF pH is expected to be a major determinant of lung host defense responses.

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This wok was supported by NIH grant HL51421 to AB.

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Correspondence to Thomas A. Heming.

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Ng, A.W., Bidani, A. & Heming, T.A. Innate Host Defense of the Lung: Effects of Lung-lining Fluid pH. Lung 182, 297–317 (2004).

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  • Natural immunity
  • Acid-base status
  • Mucociliary clearance
  • Alveolar macrophage
  • Phagocytosis