Department of Biomedicine, University Hospital Basel, Switzerland
Asthma affects more than 300 million people worldwide and its prevalence is still rising. Acute asthma attacks are characterized by severe symptoms such as breathlessness, wheezing, tightness of the chest, and coughing, which may lead to hospitalization or death. Besides the acute symptoms, asthma is characterized by persistent airway inflammation and airway wall remodeling. The term airway wall remodeling summarizes the structural changes in the airway wall: epithelial cell shedding, goblet cell hyperplasia, hyperplasia and hypertrophy of the airway smooth muscle (ASM) bundles, basement membrane thickening and increased vascular density. Airway wall remodeling starts early in the pathogenesis of asthma and today it is suggested that remodeling is a prerequisite for other asthma pathologies. The beneficial effect of bronchial thermoplasty in reducing asthma symptoms, together with the increased potential of ASM cells of asthmatics to produce inflammatory and angiogenic factors, indicate that the ASM cell is a major effector cell in the pathology of asthma. In the present review we discuss the ASM cell and its role in airway wall remodeling and angiogenesis.
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