Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Pulmonary Medicine and BioMed Central.

Open Access Highly Accessed Commentary

What is the clinical relevance of different lung compartments?

Thomas Tschernig* and Reinhard Pabst

Author Affiliations

Functional and Applied Anatomy, Medical School of Hannover, Carl-Neuberg-Str. 1, 30625 Hannover, Germany

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Pulmonary Medicine 2009, 9:39  doi:10.1186/1471-2466-9-39

Published: 11 August 2009

Abstract

The lung consists of at least seven compartments with relevance to immune reactions. Compartment 1 - the bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL), which represents the cells of the bronchoalveolar space: From a diagnostic point of view the bronchoalveolar space is the most important because it is easily accessible in laboratory animals, as well as in patients, using BAL. Although this technique has been used for several decades it is still unclear to what extent the BAL represents changes in other lung compartments. Compartment 2 - bronchus-associated lymphoid tissue (BALT): In the healthy, BALT can be found only in childhood. The role of BALT in the development of the mucosal immunity of the pulmonary surfaces has not yet been resolved. However, it might be an important tool for inhalative vaccination strategies. Compartment 3 - conducting airway mucosa: A third compartment is the bronchial epithelium and the submucosa, which both contain a distinct pool of leukocytes (e.g. intraepithelial lymphocytes, IEL). This again is also accessible via bronchoscopy. Compartment 4 - draining lymph nodes/Compartment 5 - lung parenchyma: Transbronchial biopsies are more difficult to perform but provide access to two additional compartments - lymph nodes with the draining lymphatics and lung parenchyma, which roughly means "interstitial" lung tissue. Compartment 6 - the intravascular leukocyte pool: The intravascular compartment lies between the systemic circulation and inflamed lung compartments. Compartment 7 - periarterial space: Finally, there is a unique, lung-specific space around the pulmonary arteries which contains blood and lymph capillaries. There are indications that this "periarterial space" may be involved in the pulmonary host defense.

All these compartments are connected but the functional network is not yet fully understood. A better knowledge of the complex interactions could improve diagnosis and therapy, or enable preventive approaches of local immunization.