UNC- Chapel Hill

Airway Volume Regulation


Ion Channel Model

Our research project is aimed at describing how lung epithelial cells regulate mucus hydration. As a protection against lung infection, inhaled pathogens trapped in the airways are removed by mucus transport towards the digestive tract. This physiological process, named mucociliary clearance, depends on proper mucus hydration. The importance of this clearance process is illustrated by the disease Cystic Fibrosis (CF), where absence of a single gene (CFTR) causes mucus dehydration, reduced clearance and persistent lung infection. Lung epithelial cells regulate mucus hydration by controlling ion movement across cell membranes; water flows as a response to changes in the osmotic pressure. We are building a computational model that describes the main events at the cellular level that regulate mucus hydration. The model takes into account the three main ions that contribute to osmotic pressure (Na+, K+, Cl-), ion movement due to electrochemical gradients, and the regulation of ion channels by extracellular signals (ATP and adenosine). Model parameters are fitted to reproduce bioelectric measurements performed in cell cultures of human airway epithelia.


Regulation of Extracellular Nucleotides by Airway Epithelia

imageIn the airways, adenine nucleotides support a complex signaling network mediating host defenses. Released by the epithelium into the airway surface liquid (ASL), adenine nucleotides are sensed by membrane receptors (P2Y2 and A2b), which trigger a cascade of intracellular signals that regulate ciliary beat frequency, mucus release, mucus hydration, and mucociliary clearance. The importance of this signaling pathway in lung pathophysiology, particularly in cystic fibrosis, has led us to develop a mathematical model of how airway epithelia regulate extracellular nucleotides. The mathematical model describes nucleotide release, metabolism by ecto-enzymes into nucleosides (Adenosine and Inosine), and nucleoside uptake by membrane transporters (CNT3).

Zuo P, Picher M, Okada SF, Lazarowski ER, Button B, Boucher RC, Elston TC. Mathematical model of nucleotide regulation on airway epithelia: Implications for airway homeostasis. J Biol Chem. 2008 Sept 26; 283(39):26805-26819
(Pubmed | Journal)

The Virtual Lung Project

The Virtual Lung Project is a campus-wide effort aimed at understanding the flow of liquid by beating cilia and how to restore functionality when this process is disrupted such as in Cystic Fibrosis patients. As part of the Virtual Lung Project we are interested in the biochemical processes responsible for the regulation of cellular volume. These processes are important because the associated liquid flow into and out of the cell critically determine the properties of the fluid in contact with the cilia.