Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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'New' lung cell discovered: further insight into cystic fibrosis

21 August 2018

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Lining our insides, epithelial tissues are a sort of skin stretching across our organs, each a mosaic of different cells and chemicals. In the conducting airways of the respiratory tract – where air is warmed and cleaned and as we breathe – scientists found a ‘new’ type of cell poking out of the epithelium. These pulmonary ionocytes are growing up like tulips (although 10,000 times smaller) in the upper respiratory tract of mice. Humans have them, too. The mysterious cells appear to 'switch on', or express, high levels of CFTR – a gene mutated in cystic fibrosis, suggesting an important role for these cells in future treatments. This discovery is part of a larger census of cells in healthy and damaged airways – useful information for future studies looking for changes during disease or ageing.

Written by John Ankers

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