Early studies on the surface epithelium of mammalian airways

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3 Scopus citations


This article traces the beginnings of the various areas of physiological research on airway epithelium. First mentioned in 1600, it was not until 1834 that it was found to be ciliated. Goblet and basal cells were described in 1852, to be followed by ~10 other epithelial cell types (the most recent in 2018). It also contains nerve endings and resident leukocytes. Mucociliary clearance was documented in 1835, but the first studies on the ciliary beat cycle did not appear until 1890, and a definitive description was not published until 1981. It was established in 1932 that goblet cells in the cat trachea were unresponsive to cholinergic agents; but only since 1980 or so has any significant progress been made on what does cause them to degranulate. Active transfer of salts across epithelia creates local osmotic gradients that drive transepithelial water flows. Vectorial salt transport was first described for airway epithelium in 1968, and the associated volume flows were measured in 1981. Evidence that airway epithelium releases signaling molecules first appeared in 1981. Since then, scores of molecules have been identified. The pace of research in most areas increased dramatically after the development of confluent, polarized cultures of airway epithelium in the early 1980s.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)L486-L495
JournalAmerican journal of physiology. Lung cellular and molecular physiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019


  • airway epithelium
  • goblet cell
  • ion and water transport
  • mucociliary clearance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Cell Biology


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