An uncommon and little-studied type of cell in the lungs has been found to act like a sensor, linking the pulmonary and central nervous systems to regulate immune response in reaction to environmental cues.
The cells, known as pulmonary neuroendocrine cells or PNECs, are implicated in a wide range of human lung diseases, including asthma, pulmonary hypertension, cystic fibrosis and sudden infant death syndrome, among others.
Pulmonary neuroendocrine cells (red) are rare cells found in clusters along the mammalian airway, where they act as sensors, sending information to the central nervous system. These clusters are found interspersed among other airway epithelial cells (green). The cells, whose function was previously unknown, have been found by a group led by medical geneticist Xin Sun to sense environmental stimuli and report to the nervous system to orchestrate an immune response.
Credit: Leah Nantie
Until now, their function in a live animal was unknown. A team led by University of Wisconsin-Madison medical geneticist Xin Sun reports in the current (Jan. 7) issue of the journal Science that PNECs are effective sensors seeded in the airway of many animals, including humans.
"These cells make up less than one percent of the cells in the airway epithelium," the layer of cells that lines the respiratory tract, explains Sun. "Our conclusion is that they are capable of receiving, interpreting and responding to environmental stimuli such as allergens or chemicals mixed with the air we breathe."
Discovering the function of the cells may provide new therapeutic avenues for a wide range of serious diseases of the pulmonary system.
Sun and her group initially set out to find the underlying cause of congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), a fairly common birth defect where a hole in a newborn's diaphragm, the muscle that controls breathing, lets organs from the abdomen slip into the chest. The deformed diaphragm can be repaired surgically, but many of the babies still die. Those that survive can have symptoms similar to asthma or pulmonary hypertension.
The Wisconsin group homed in on a pair of genes known as ROBO1 and ROBO2. Mutations in the genes had previously been implicated in CDH. By knocking out ROBO genes in mice, Sun and her colleagues were able to mimic CDH. Unexpectedly, they also discovered that PNECs were disorganized in the ROBO mutants. In a healthy mouse, PNECs mostly form clusters of cells. "In the mutant, they don't cluster," says Sun. "They stay as solitary cells, and as single cells they are much more sensitive to the environment."
The team went on to show that defects in the PNECs caused the hyperactive immune response in the ROBO mutant lungs.
PNECs are the only known cells in the airway lining that are linked to the nervous system. It seems, explains Sun, that they are basically distributed sensors, gathering information from the air and relaying it to the brain. Interestingly, the same cells also receive processed signals back from the brain to amp up their secretion of neuropeptides, which are small protein molecules that are potent regulators of the immune response.
Disorders of the immune system like asthma are associated with increased expression of neuropeptides. Showing that PNECs play a role in regulating host response through the release of neuropeptides suggests that it may be possible to devise ways of regulating them to prevent or ameliorate disease, Sun says.
Sun is a professor of medical genetics in the Laboratory of Genetics of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. Contributing to the work were Kelsey Branchfield, Leah Nantie, Jamie Verheyden, Pengfei Sui and Mark Weinhold, all of UW-Madison. The new study was supported by awards from the American Heart Association, the National Institutes of Health and, at the campus level, by the Wisconsin Partnership Program and a Romnes Faculty Fellowship. Romnes Fellowships are awarded by the UW-Madison Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education with funding from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.
CONTACT: Xin Sun, (608) 265-5405, firstname.lastname@example.org
DOWNLOAD PHOTOS: https:/
Terry Devitt, (608) 262-8282, email@example.com
Xin Sun | EurekAlert!
NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures
17.11.2017 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
High speed video recording precisely measures blood cell velocity
15.11.2017 | ITMO University
The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.
Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...
Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.
That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...
Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.
During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....
The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.
Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...
Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...
15.11.2017 | Event News
15.11.2017 | Event News
30.10.2017 | Event News
17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine
17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses