Polymeric Airway Mucins in Equine Recurrent Airway Obstruction

  • Adele Williams

    Student thesis: Phd


    In healthy airways, mucus forms part of the innate immune response protecting therespiratory epithelium from damage by pathogens and environmental debris (Rose and Voynow, 2006). Conversely, in many respiratory diseases, mucus becomes part of the airway disease pathology. Mucus hypersecretion along with reduced clearance can cause blockage of the small airways, impairing gas exchange, promoting inflammation and becoming a culture medium for bacterial colonisation (Thornton et al., 2008).Recurrent airway obstruction (RAO) is a common yet poorly understood equine chronic respiratory disease where such altered mucus properties and clearance have been identified as major factors in the disease pathology (Davis and Rush, 2002; Gerber et al., 2000; Kaup et al., 1990; Robinson, 2001). The gel-forming mucins are largely responsible for the transport properties of mucus. The major equine airway gel-forming mucin in health is Muc5b and to a lesser extent Muc5ac; produced in specialised respiratory epithelial goblet cells and sub-mucosal glands (Rousseau et al., 2011b). Changes in mucin relative and net amounts and their macromolecular properties and interactions have been attributed to the altered physical properties of airway mucus in airways disease (Groneberg et al., 2002a; Jefcoat et al., 2001; Kirkham et al., 2002; Robinson et al., 2003; Sheehan et al., 1995).The project investigates the biochemical properties of mucins present in mucus from healthy horses and horses with RAO. This project identifies the anatomical presence of mucin-producing goblet cells and glands in fixed tissues from the respiratory tracts of healthy horses and subsequently examines mucin-production sites in respiratory tracts from horses with RAO. Finally the project investigates a methodology for the study of mucin production in airway cells harvested from live horses suffering from RAO.Our investigations confirmed that horses with RAO have more endotracheal mucus than healthy controls, and that Muc5b is the predominant mucin with Muc5ac also present in RAO horse mucus, both during symptomatic disease and when horses are asymptomatic. Mucins are produced in epithelial goblet cells and sub-mucosal glands dispersed throughout the length and circumference of the equine trachea and bronchi. Goblet cell hyperplasia occurs in symptomatic exposed RAO horse airways, although goblet cells are smaller than in asymptomatic RAO horse airways. Exposure to a dusty stable environment is associated with more goblet cells per length of bronchial compared to tracheal epithelium in all horses. RAO horses have larger sub-mucosal glands containing more mucin than control horses.Primary epithelial cell cultures grown at an air liquid interface are an alternative approach to study equine airway mucus, although the use of this culture system is in its early stages. We have developed novel ways to harvest equine airway epithelial cells (tracheal brushing) and shown it is possible to freeze cells collected via tracheal epithelial brushing in 20 % FBS and then culture to ALI at a later date.
    Date of Award1 Aug 2014
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • The University of Manchester
    SupervisorRaymond Boot-Handford (Supervisor) & David Thornton (Supervisor)


    • Muc5b, Muc5ac
    • Recurrent airway obstruction, RAO, heaves
    • Equine, horse
    • Mucin(s)
    • airway mucus
    • glycoprotein

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