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1.  Airway epithelial platelet-activating factor receptor expression is markedly upregulated in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 
We recently published that platelet-activating factor receptor (PAFr) is upregulated on the epithelium of the proximal airways of current smokers and also in bronchial epithelial cells exposed to cigarette smoke extract. These treated cells also showed upregulation of Streptococcus pneumoniae adhesion. Bacterial wall phosphorylcholine specifically binds to PAFr expressed on airway epithelium, thus facilitating adherence and tissue invasion, which may be relevant to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Moreover, the use of inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) in COPD patients is associated with an increased risk of invasive respiratory pneumococcal infections.
In this study, we have investigated whether PAFr expression is especially upregulated in airway epithelium in COPD patients and whether this expression may be modulated by ICS therapy.
We cross-sectionally evaluated PAFr expression in bronchial biopsies from 15 COPD patients who were current smokers (COPD-smokers) and 12 COPD-ex-smokers, and we compared these to biopsies from 16 smokers with normal lung function. We assessed immunostaining with anti-PAFr monoclonal antibody. We also used material from a previous double-blinded randomized placebo-controlled 6-month ICS intervention study in COPD patients to explore the effect of ICS on PAFr expression. We employed computer-aided image analysis to quantify the percentage of epithelium stained for PAFr.
Markedly enhanced expression of PAFr was found in both COPD-smokers (P<0.005) and COPD-ex-smokers (P<0.002) compared to smokers with normal lung function. There was little evidence that PAFr expression was affected by ICS therapy over 6 months.
Epithelial PAFr expression is upregulated in smokers, especially in those with COPD, and is not obviously affected by ICS therapy.
PMCID: PMC4137917  PMID: 25143722
adhesion; airway epithelium; inhaled corticosteroids; pneumococcal infections; Streptococcus pneumoniae
2.  A randomized controlled trial of inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) on markers of epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) in large airway samples in COPD: an exploratory proof of concept study 
We recently reported that epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) is active in the airways in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), suggesting presence of an active profibrotic and promalignant stroma. With no data available on potential treatment effects, we undertook a blinded analysis of inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) effects versus placebo on EMT markers in previously obtained endobronchial biopsies in COPD patients, as a “proof of concept” study.
Assessment of the effects of inhaled fluticasone propionate (FP; 500 μg twice daily for 6 months) versus placebo in 34 COPD patients (23 on fluticasone propionate and eleven on placebo). The end points were epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR; marker of epithelial activation) and the biomarkers of EMT: reticular basement membrane (Rbm) fragmentation (“hallmark” structural marker), matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9) cell expression, and S100A4 expression in basal epithelial and Rbm cells (mesenchymal transition markers).
Epithelial activation, “clefts/fragmentation” in the Rbm, and changes in the other biomarkers all regressed on ICS, at or close to conventional levels of statistical significance. From these data, we have been able to nominate primary and secondary end points and develop power calculations that would be applicable to a definitive prospective study.
Although only a pilot “proof of concept” study, this trial provided strong suggestive support for an anti-EMT effect of ICS in COPD airways. A larger and fully powered prospective study is now indicated as this issue is likely to be extremely important. Such studies may clarify the links between ICS use and better clinical outcomes and protection against lung cancer in COPD.
PMCID: PMC4043431  PMID: 24920891
pilot trial; reticular basement membrane; S100A4; EGFR; MMP-9; lung cancer
3.  Role of epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT) in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) 
Respiratory Research  2013;14(1):120.
Small airway fibrosis is the main contributor to physiological airway dysfunction in COPD. One potential mechanism contributing to small airway fibrosis is epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT). When associated with angiogenesis (so called EMT-Type-3) it may well also be the link with the development of cancer, which is closely associated with COPD and predominantly in large airways. In a recent study published in Respiratory Research, Qin Wang and colleagues investigated the role of urokinase plasminogen activator receptor (uPAR) in EMT in small airway epithelium of COPD patients. However, there are some issues with the paper which we wish to comment on.
PMCID: PMC4176099  PMID: 24195704
Epithelial mesenchymal transition; Small airways; Large airways; COPD; Lung cancer; Vimentin
4.  Changes in Airway Histone Deacetylase2 in Smokers and COPD with Inhaled Corticosteroids: A Randomized Controlled Trial 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e64833.
The expression of HDAC2 is reported as reduced in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). We assessed HDAC2 expression within the airways of smokers and subjects with COPD and effects of inhaled corticosteroids (ICS), using immuno-histology to contrast with previous molecular methodology.
Endobronchial biopsies (ebb) from current smokers with COPD (COPD-CS; n = 15), ex-smokers with COPD (COPD-ES; n = 17), smokers with normal lung function (NS; n = 16) and normal controls (NC; n = 9) were immunostained for HDAC2. A double-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled 6 months intervention study assessed effects of ICS on HDAC2 in 34 COPD subjects.
There was no difference in epithelial HDAC2 staining in all groups. There was a significant reduction in total cell numbers in the lamina propria (LP) in COPD-CS and NS (p<0.05). LP cellularity correlated inversely with smoking history in COPD-CS (R = −0.8, p<0.003). HDAC2 expression increased markedly in NS (p<0.001); in contrast COPD-CS was associated with suppressed signal (p<0.03), while normal in COPD-ES. ICS did not affect HDAC2 cell staining.
Our findings suggest that airway HDAC2 expression is increased in the LP by smoking itself, but is reduced in COPD. Ex-smokers have normalised HDAC2 cell expression, but ICS had no effect. The paper emphasise the pit-falls of relying on molecular data alone to define airway changes.
Clinical Trial Registration Information:
Name of registry
The Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ANZCTR)
Registry number
PMCID: PMC3661479  PMID: 23717666
5.  Vessel-Associated Transforming Growth Factor-Beta1 (TGF-β1) Is Increased in the Bronchial Reticular Basement Membrane in COPD and Normal Smokers 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e39736.
Transforming growth factor-beta1 (TGF-β1) is a multipotential cytokine with angiogenic activity. There are only limited data about its role in airway remodeling in COPD. We have previously shown that the reticular basement membrane (Rbm) is hypervascular in the airways of current smokers either with or without chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This study evaluated TGF-β1 immunostaining in the Rbm and its relationship to vascularity in smokers with or without COPD.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Bronchial biopsies from 15 smokers with normal lung function, 19 current and 14 ex-smokers with COPD were immunostained for TGF-β1 antibody and compared to 17 healthy controls. The percentage area of tissue and also number and area of vessels staining positively for TGF-β1 were measured and compared between groups. Some bronchial biopsies from current smoking COPD subjects were also stained for phosphorylated (active) Smad2/3. Epithelial TGF- β1 staining was not different between COPD current smokers and normal controls. TGF-β1 stained vessels in the Rbm were increased in smokers with normal lung function, current smoking COPD and ex-smokers with COPD compared to controls [median (range) for number of vessels/mm Rbm 2.5 (0.0–12.7), 3.4 (0.0–8.1) and 1.0 (0.0–6.3) vs. 0.0 (0.0–7.0), p<0.05]. Percentage of vessels stained was also increased in these clinical groups. Preliminary data suggest that in current smoking COPD subjects endothelial cells and cells in the Rbm stain positively for phosphorylated Smad2/3 suggesting TGF-β1 is functionally active in this situation.
Vessel-associated TGF-β1 activity is increased in the bronchial Rbm in smokers and especially those with COPD.
PMCID: PMC3387255  PMID: 22768115
6.  Reticular Basement Membrane Vessels Are Increased in COPD Bronchial Mucosa by Both Factor VIII and Collagen IV Immunostaining and Are Hyperpermeable 
Journal of Allergy  2012;2012:958383.
Background and Objective. Using Collagen IV staining, we have previously reported that the reticular basement membrane (Rbm) is hypervascular and the lamina propria (LP) is hypovascular in COPD airways. This study compared Collagen IV staining with vessels marked with anti-Factor VIII and examined vessel permeability in bronchial biopsies from COPD and normal subjects using albumin staining. Results. Anti-Collagen IV antibody detected more vessels in the Rbm (P = 0.002) and larger vessels in both Rbm (P < 0.001) and LP (P = 0.003) compared to Factor VIII. COPD airways had more vessels (with greater permeability) in the Rbm (P = 0.01) and fewer vessels (with normal permeability) in the LP compared to controls with both Collagen IV and Factor VIII antibodies (P = 0.04 and P = 0.01). Conclusion. Rbm vessels were increased in number and were hyperpermeable in COPD airways. Anti-Collagen IV and anti-Factor VIII antibodies did not uniformly detect the same vessel populations; the first is likely to reflect larger and older vessels with the latter reflecting smaller, younger vessels.
PMCID: PMC3303780  PMID: 22500190
7.  Evaluation of epithelial mesenchymal transition in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 
Respiratory Research  2011;12(1):130.
The reticular basement membrane (Rbm) in smokers and especially smokers with COPD is fragmented with "clefts" containing cells staining for the collagenase matrix-metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9) and fibroblast protein, S100A4. These cells are also present in the basal epithelium. Such changes are likely hallmarks of epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT). We aimed to confirm the epithelial origin of these Rbm cells, and to exclude potential confounding by infiltrating inflammatory cells.
Endobronchial biopsy sections from 17 COPD current smokers, with documented Rbm splitting and cellularity were stained for neutrophil elastase (neutrophil marker), CD68 (macrophage/mature fibroblasts), CD4+/CD8+ T lymphocytes, CD19 (B-cells), CD11c (dendritic cells/inflammatory cells), and S100 (Langerhans cells). The number of cells in the Rbm and epithelium staining for these "inflammatory" cell markers were then compared to numbers staining for S100A4, "a documented EMT epitope". Slides were double stained for S100A4 and cytokeratin(s).
In the basal epithelium significantly more cells stained for S100A4 compared to infiltrating macrophages, fibroblasts or immune cells: median, 26 (21.3 - 37.3) versus 0 (0 - 9.6) per mm, p < 0.003. Markedly more S100A4 staining cells were also observed in the Rbm compared to infiltrating macrophages, neutrophils, fibroblasts or immune cells or any sub-type: 58 (37.3 - 92.6) versus 0 (0 - 4.8) cells/mm Rbm, p < 0.003. Cells in the basal epithelium 26 (21.3 - 37.3) per mm) and Rbm (5.9 (2.3 - 13.8) per mm) frequently double stained for both cytokeratin and S100A4.
These data provide additional support for active EMT in COPD airways.
PMCID: PMC3198934  PMID: 21970519
cytokeratin; clefts; epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT); inflammatory cells and S100A4
8.  Basement membrane and vascular remodelling in smokers and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a cross-sectional study 
Respiratory Research  2010;11(1):105.
Little is known about airway remodelling in bronchial biopsies (BB) in smokers and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). We conducted an initial pilot study comparing BB from COPD patients with nonsmoking controls. This pilot study suggested the presence of reticular basement membrane (Rbm) fragmentation and altered vessel distribution in COPD.
To determine whether Rbm fragmentation and altered vessel distribution in BB were specific for COPD we designed a cross-sectional study and stained BB from 19 current smokers and 14 ex-smokers with mild to moderate COPD and compared these to 15 current smokers with normal lung function and 17 healthy and nonsmoking subjects.
Thickness of the Rbm was not significantly different between groups; although in COPD this parameter was quite variable. The Rbm showed fragmentation and splitting in both current smoking groups and ex-smoker COPD compared with healthy nonsmokers (p < 0.02); smoking and COPD seemed to have additive effects. Rbm fragmentation correlated with smoking history in COPD but not with age. There were more vessels in the Rbm and fewer vessels in the lamina propria in current smokers compared to healthy nonsmokers (p < 0.05). The number of vessels staining for vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in the Rbm was higher in both current smoker groups and ex-smoker COPD compared to healthy nonsmokers (p < 0.004). In current smoker COPD VEGF vessel staining correlated with FEV1% predicted (r = 0.61, p < 0.02).
Airway remodelling in smokers and mild to moderate COPD is associated with fragmentation of the Rbm and altered distribution of vessels in the airway wall. Rbm fragmentation was also present to as great an extent in ex-smokers with COPD. These characteristics may have potential physiological consequences.
PMCID: PMC2918561  PMID: 20670454
9.  Distinctive characteristics of bronchial reticular basement membrane and vessel remodelling in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and in asthma: they are not the same disease 
Histopathology  2012;60(6):964-970.
This study compared reticular basement membrane (Rbm) and vascular remodelling within the bronchial mucosa of subjects with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) with those from patients with asthma, to test the ‘Dutch hypothesis’ of whether these are essentially the same or different pathological conditions.
Methods and results
Bronchoscopic biopsies were stained with anti-collagen IV antibody; 18 current smoking COPD, 10 symptomatic asthmatics and 13 healthy non-smoking controls were studied. The Rbm in COPD was fragmented, non-homogeneous, variable in thickness and hypervascular, whereas in asthma the Rbm was compact and homogeneous with no evidence of increased vascularity compared to controls. Length of Rbm splitting presented as percentage of Rbm length was used to measure fragmentation; it was greater in COPD than in controls and asthmatics [median (range) 20.7% (0.4–68.5) versus 5.3% (0.0–21.7) versus 1.5% (0.0–15.1), P < 0.001]. The number of Rbm vessels/mm Rbm [median (range) 10.1 (1.6–23.0) versus 4.5 (0.0–26.4) versus 4.4 (0.4–8.1), P < 0.01] and area of Rbm vessels, μm2/mm Rbm [median (range) 953 (115–2456) versus 462 (0–3263) versus 426 (32–2216), P < 0.05] was also increased in COPD compared to normal subjects and asthmatics.
The characteristics of Rbm remodelling are quite different in asthma and COPD.
PMCID: PMC3465784  PMID: 22320998
airway remodelling; asthma; bronchial biopsies; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; reticular basement membrane
10.  Epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT) in small airways of COPD patients 
Thorax  2013;68(8):783-784.
PMCID: PMC3717724  PMID: 23492370
Airway Epithelium; COPD Pathology

Results 1-10 (10)