As one of the principal interfaces between the organism and the environment, the respiratory system is a target for a wide variety of toxicants and carcinogens. The cellular and architectural complexity of the respiratory system appears to play a major role in defining the focal nature of the pulmonary response to environmental stressors. This review will address the biological factors that modulate the response of one of the major target compartments within the respiratory system, the tracheobronchial airway tree. Individual airway segments respond uniquely to toxic stress and this response involves not only the target cell population, e.g. epithelium, but also other components of the airway wall suggesting a trophic interaction within all components of the airway wall in maintaining steady state and responding to injury. A number of biological factors modulate the nature of the response, including: (1) metabolic potential at specific sites for activation and detoxification; (2) the nature of the local inflammatory response; (3) age of the organism at the time of exposure; (4) gender of the exposed organism; (5) history of previous exposure; and (6) species and strain of the organism exposed.
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