Inducible innate resistance of lung epithelium to infection.
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Most studies of innate immunity have focused on leukocytes such as neutrophils, macrophages, and natural killer cells. However, epithelial cells play key roles in innate defenses that include providing a mechanical barrier to microbial entry, signaling to leukocytes, and directly killing pathogens. Importantly, all these defenses are highly inducible in response to the sensing of microbial and host products. In healthy lungs, the level of innate immune epithelial function is low at baseline. This is indicated by low levels of spontaneous microbial killing and cytokine release, reflecting low constitutive stimulation in the nearly sterile lower respiratory tract when mucociliary clearance mechanisms are functioning effectively. This contrasts with the colon, where bacteria are continuously present and epithelial cells are constitutively activated. Although the surface area of the lungs presents a large target for microbial invasion, activated lung epithelial cells that are closely apposed to deposited pathogens are ideally positioned for microbial killing.