Priority Research Area Asthma and Allergy

Experimental Pneumology

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Chronic inflammatory disorders of the lung such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and bronchial asthma are functionally characterized by airflow limitation. On the one hand this is thought to arise from persistent inflammation of the airway and on the other hand from destruction and/or remodeling of theairway wall, composed of airway epithelium, connective tissue and smooth muscle cells. The genuine processes and the specific cell types, which link inflammation and structural changes, ultimately leading to this pathology still remain to beinvestigated. Furthermore, it is unclear, which systemic factors might have an impact on the pathogenesis of these diseases and to which extent systemic factors might be influenced by the diseases itself.

The airway wall ( including the respiratory epithelium) exhibits a highly differentiated structure and cellular composition along the proximal to distal axis of the bronchial tree. Since allergens, microbes and harmful gases may reach different regions of the lung to variable extent, the specificity of a pathogenic process can be highly variable along the airway tree. The relative contribution of proximal and distal airway regions to the pathogenesis of COPD and bronchial asthma still need to be clarified. The same is true for the interaction of infiltrating inflammatory cells and structural cells.

Among the novel approaches towards a successful therapy of chronic inflammatory lung diseases attempts that aim at inducing regeneration of damaged lung tissue (as e.g. emphysema) or reverse-remodeling of pathologically altered tissue are particularly attractive. Regenerative therapeutic approaches may help to restore the genuine structure and function of the lung.

The goals of our research in COPD and bronchial asthma focus on the following aspects: relationship of lung structure and function; interaction of inflammatory and structural cells; distinctive differences of pathogenic processes along the bronchial tree; capability to induce regeneration of the lung; systemic aspects of lung diseases.

In the attempt to bridge the gap between cellular mechanisms and physiological functions of the whole organ, we use methods and techniques from cell and molecular biology, cell and tissue culture, and (immuno-) histology in conjunction with quantitative morphology (design-based stereology) and lung function analysis.