Background: A suggested role for T cells in COPD pathogenesis is based on associations between increased lung cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CD8+) numbers and airflow limitation. CD69 is an early T cell activation marker. NKG2D receptors are co-stimulatory molecules induced on CD8+ T cells upon activation. The activating function of NKG2D is triggered by binding to the MHC class 1 chain-related (MIC) molecules A and B, expressed on surface of stressed epithelial cells. The aim of this study was to evaluate the expression of MIC A and B in the bronchial epithelium and NKG2D and CD69 on BAL lymphocytes in subjects with COPD, compared to smokers with normal lung function and healthy never-smokers.
Methods: Bronchoscopy with airway lavages and endobronchial mucosal biopsy sampling was performed in 35 patients with COPD, 21 healthy never-smokers and 16 smokers with normal lung function. Biopsies were immunohistochemically stained and BAL lymphocyte subsets were determined using flow cytometry.
Results: Epithelial CD3+ lymphocytes were increased in both smokers with normal lung function and in COPD patients, compared to never-smokers. Epithelial CD8+ lymphocyte numbers were higher in the COPD group compared to never-smoking controls. Among gated CD3+cells, the percentage of CD8+ NKG2D+ cells was enhanced in patients with COPD and smokers with normal lung function, compared to never-smokers. The percentage of CD8+ CD69+ cells and cell surface expression of CD69 were enhanced in patients with COPD and smokers with normal lung function, compared to never-smokers. No changes in the expression of MIC A or MIC B in the airway epithelium could be detected between the groups, whereas significantly decreased soluble MICB was detected in bronchial wash from smokers with normal lung function, compared to never-smokers.
Conclusions: In COPD, we found increased numbers of cytotoxic T cells in both bronchial epithelium and airway lumen. Further, the proportions of CD69- and NKG2D-expressing cytotoxic T cells in BAL fluid were enhanced in both subjects with COPD and smokers with normal lung function and increased expression of CD69 was found on CD8+ cells, indicating the cigarette smoke exposure-induced expansion of activated cytotoxic T cells, which potentially can respond to stressed epithelial cells.
2010. Vol. 11, 128- p.