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Epithelial mesenchymal transition in smokers: large versus small airways and relation to airflow obstruction

Authors Mahmood MQ, Sohal SS, Shukla SD, Ward C, Hardikar A, Noor WD, Muller HK, Knight DA, Walters EH

Received 16 January 2015

Accepted for publication 20 April 2015

Published 4 August 2015 Volume 2015:10(1) Pages 1515—1524

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/COPD.S81032

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Dr Richard Russell

Malik Quasir Mahmood,1,* Sukhwinder Singh Sohal,1,2,* Shakti Dhar Shukla,1 Chris Ward,3 Ashutosh Hardikar,4 Wan Danial Noor,1 Hans Konrad Muller,1 Darryl A Knight,5 Eugene Haydn Walters1

1NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence for Chronic Respiratory Disease and Lung Ageing, School of Medicine, University of Tasmania, Hobart, TAS, Australia; 2School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Health, University of Tasmania, Launceston, TAS, Australia; 3Institute of Cellular Medicine, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear, UK; 4Royal Hobart Hospital, Hobart, TAS, Australia; 5School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW, Australia

*These authors contributed equally to this work

Background: Small airway fibrosis is the main contributor in airflow obstruction in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT) has been implicated in this process, and in large airways, is associated with angiogenesis, ie, Type-3, which is classically promalignant.
Objective: In this study we have investigated whether EMT biomarkers are expressed in small airways compared to large airways in subjects with chronic airflow limitation (CAL) and what type of EMT is present on the basis of vascularity.
Methods: We evaluated epithelial activation, reticular basement membrane fragmentation (core structural EMT marker) and EMT-related mesenchymal biomarkers in small and large airways from resected lung tissue from 18 lung cancer patients with CAL and 9 normal controls. Tissues were immunostained for epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR; epithelial activation marker), vimentin (mesenchymal marker), and S100A4 (fibroblast epitope). Type-IV collagen was stained to demonstrate vessels.
Results: There was increased expression of EMT-related markers in CAL small airways compared to controls: EGFR (P<0.001), vimentin (P<0.001), S100A4 (P<0.001), and fragmentation (P<0.001), but this was less than that in large airways. Notably, there was no hypervascularity in small airway reticular basement membrane as in large airways. Epithelial activation and S100A4 expression were related to airflow obstruction.
Conclusion: EMT is active in small airways, but less so than in large airways in CAL, and may be relevant to the key pathologies of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, small airway fibrosis, and airway cancers.

Keywords: EMT, EGFR, S100A4, vimentin, fragmentation, small airways

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