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Thorax. 2004 November; 59(11): 992–996.
PMCID: PMC1746853

Roles of epidermal growth factor receptor activation in epithelial cell repair and mucin production in airway epithelium


The epithelial cells lining the airways serve protective functions. The "barrier function" of the epithelium protects the individual from damage by inhaled irritants. The epithelium produces mucins which become hydrated and form a viscoelastic gel which spreads over the epithelial surface. In healthy individuals inhaled foreign materials become entrapped in the mucus and are cleared by mucociliary transport and by coughing. In many chronic inflammatory airway diseases, however, excessive mucus is produced and is inadequately cleared, leading to mucous obstruction and infection. At present there is no specific treatment for hypersecretion. However, the discovery that an epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) cascade is involved in mucin production by a wide variety of stimuli suggests that blockade may provide specific treatment for hypersecretory diseases. EGFR pathways have also been implicated in the repair of damaged airway epithelium. The roles of EGFR in airway epithelial cell hypersecretion and epithelial damage and repair are reviewed and future potential treatments are suggested.

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