Lung airway stem cells awry in cystic fibrosis

Recent research from the University of Iowa suggests that people with cystic fibrosis have fewer of the stem cells that would normally repair the airway.

In most people, glands in the airway secrete bacteria-killing factors to help fight infection. These glands are also home to airway stem cells that rebuild the glands and keep them functioning normally. The Iowa team found that in people with CF, the airway stem cells had packed up and moved to the surface of airway rather than being nestled in the protective glands.

The team didn’t find a clear cause and effect, but they suggest that with fewer airway stem cells, those glands are less able to repair themselves and secrete factors to help ward off infection. John Engelhardt, Roy J. Carver Chair in Molecular Medicine and professor and head of anatomy and cell biology who led the research, suggests that the next step might be to learn how to manipulate the environment, or stem cell niche, of those glands so that the stem cells will stay put and keep the glands functioning properly. Such a therapy could help prevent the infections that wreak such havoc on people with CF.

A University of Iowa press release quotes Engelhardt:

“This is the first demonstration that lung stem cell niches may be altered in CF.” … “The future excitement of these findings relates to the potential of manipulating lung stem cells through neuropeptides or their inhibitors.”

The work was published in the July 18 issue of July 18 issue of Journal of Clinical Investigation.