Regulation of the depth of surface liquid in bovine trachea

D. X Y Wu, C. Y C Lee, S. N. Uyekubo, H. K. Choi, S. J. Bastacky, Jonathan Widdicombe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


The luminal surface of airways is lined by a thin film of airway surface liquid (ASL). Physiological regulation of the depth of ASL has not been reported previously. In this paper, we have used low-temperature scanning electron microscopy of rapidly frozen specimens of bovine tracheal epithelium to demonstrate alterations in the depth of ASL in response to the cholinergic agonist methacholine. We first established that methacholine selectively stimulated airway glands, with maximal secretion at ~2 min and a return to baseline within ~5 min. A 2-min exposure to methacholine increased the depth of ASL from 23 to 78 μm. Thereafter, depth decreased linearly with time, reaching 32 μm at 30 min. The initial increase in depth was blocked by bumetanide, an inhibitor of active chloride secretion, whereas the slow decline back to baseline was inhibited by amiloride, a blocker of active sodium absorption. We conclude that the methacholine-induced changes in ASL depth reflect transient gland secretion followed by liquid absorption across the surface epithelium.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology
Issue number3 18-3
StatePublished - Mar 1998


  • Epithelial ion transport
  • Low-temperature scanning electron microscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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