The larynx is a mucosal organ positioned at the divergence of the respiratory and digestive tracts. It is exposed to a wide variety of environmental components, including foreign antigens, tobacco smoke, laryngopharyngeal reflux and pollutants. The mucosal immune system generates either active immune responses or tolerance, depending on the nature of the antigen and we hypothesize that the larynx is important organ for immunological decision-making in the airway. Because the pig is an ideal large animal model in which to explore laryngological research questions, such as those relating to laryngeal transplantation, we investigated the normal mucosal immunology of the porcine larynx. Pig larynges and tracheae were processed and prepared for bright-field microscopy and quantitative, multiple-colour immunofluorescence histology using pig-specific monoclonal antibodies. There was an abundance of immunologically active cells within the mucosa of the larynx and trachea of both the newborn and adult animal. Specifically, major histocompatibility complex class II (MHC class II+) cells, CD4+ and CD8+ cells were identified, although regional differences in numbers were apparent: specifically, the supraglottis contained fewer immunologically relevant cells than other sites sampled. There was a significant correlation between the numbers of MHC class II+ and CD4+ cells indicating co-ordinate regulation and therefore functional local interactions. The presence of such an immunological structure suggests that the larynx may have important functions in respiratory immunology and that it may trigger strong alloresponses after laryngeal transplantation.
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