Inflammation of the human bronchial epithelium, as observed in asthmatics, is characterized by the selective death of the columnar epithelial cells, which desquamate from the basal cells. Tissue repair initiates from basal cells that resist inflammation. Here, we have evaluated the extent of apoptosis as well as the Hsp27 level of expression in epithelial cells from bronchial biopsy samples taken from normal and asthmatic subjects. Hsp27 is a chaperone whose expression protects against oxidative stress. We report that in asthmatic subjects the basal epithelium cells express a high level of Hsp27 but no apoptotic morphology. In contrast, apoptotic columnar cells are devoid of Hsp27 expression. Moreover, we observed a decreased resistance to hydrogen peroxide–induced apoptosis in human bronchial epithelial 16–HBE cells when they were genetically modified to express reduced levels of Hsp27.
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