In this report, we present a new concept of the role of the basal cell in airway epithelium. Previously, the basal cell was thought to be the progenitor cell for the columnar epithelium. However, several studies have shown that this concept may not be correct. The morphologic aspects of the basal cell suggest that it could play a role in adhesion of the columnar epithelium to the basement membrane. Basal cells form attachments with columnar cells (desmosomes) and with the basement membrane (hemidesmosomes). Columnar cells do not form hemidesmosome attachments with the basement membrane. Basal cells could strengthen the adhesion of columnar cells to the basement membrane by forming hemidesmosome attachments to the basement membrane and desmosome attachments with adjacent columnar cells. Incidental evidence from 2 existing publications concerning airway microanatomy support this concept. As columnar cells grow taller, the proportion of the cell surface in contact with the basement membrane becomes progressively smaller, and thus the cell surface area related to adhesion also becomes smaller. It was found that the number of basal cells per millimeter of basement membrane was closely related to the height of the columnar cell epithelium (r = 0.98), but not to the number of columnar cells (r = 0.42). The consistency of the relationship between increased columnar cell height (and thus decreased surface area for adhesion) and the number of basal cells present (r = 0.98) supports the concept that the basal cell plays a role in adhesion of columnar cells to the basement membrane. Conceptually, this is a new role for the basal cell that changes our perspective concerning the function of the basal cell as well as the anatomy of airway epithelium.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine