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Review article: Biomedical intelligence

Vol. 142 No. 3132 (2012)

Epithelial cells, the “switchboard” of respiratory immune defense responses: effects of air pollutants

  • Loretta Müller
  • Ilona Jaspers
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2012;142:w13653


Epimmunome”, a term introduced recently by Swamy and colleagues, describes all molecules and pathways used by epithelial cells (ECs) to instruct immune cells. Today, we know that ECs are among the first sites within the human body to be exposed to pathogens (such as influenza viruses) and that the release of chemokine and cytokines by ECs is influenced by inhaled agents. The role of the ECs as a switchboard to initiate and regulate immune responses is altered through air pollutant exposure, such as ozone, tobacco smoke and diesel exhaust emissions. The details of the interplay between ECs and immune cells are not yet fully understood and need to be investigated further. Co-culture models, cell specific genetically-modified mice and the analysis of human biopsies provide great tools to gain knowledge about potential mechanisms. Increasing our understanding about the role of ECs in respiratory immunity may yield novel therapeutic targets to modulate downstream diseases.


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