In allergic and nonallergic lung diseases, if intraluminal mast cells adhere to airway epithelium, inflammatory mediators released from activated mast cells may reach high local concentrations and thus greatly affect airway function. To determine whether mast cells adhere to airway epithelial cells, radiolabeled or unlabeled dog mastocytoma cells were incubated with cultured dog tracheal epithelial cells, with extracellular matrix substrates, and with cryostat-cut sections of dog trachea. Mast cells adhered well to cultured epithelial cells (35 +/- 13% adhesion, mean +/- 1 SD, n = 23) but adhered poorly to types I and IV collagen or to fibronectin (less than 7.5% mean adhesion in all cases). Similarly, in tracheal tissue sections, mast cells adhered preferentially to epithelial cells in surface epithelium or in submucosal glands but not to basal membrane or connective tissue. Adhesion to cultured epithelial cells was a characteristics of a subpopulation of mast cells, could persist for more than 48 h, did not require energy or the presence of divalent cations, and was not mediated by a known family of leukocyte-associated adhesion glycoproteins. Adhesion was completely abolished by pretreatment of mast cells with pronase E or proteinase K but not with trypsin (up to 10 micrograms/ml at 37 degrees C for 20 min each). In contrast, pretreatment of cultured epithelial cells with any of these proteinases had no effect on adhesion. It is concluded that dog mastocytoma mast cells adhere to dog tracheal epithelial cells and do so selectively. It is suggested that mast cell adhesion to airway epithelium may play a role in the effectiveness of mast cell-epithelial cell interactions, and thus, in certain lung diseases, airway function may be affected by intraluminal mast cells more than is currently appreciated.

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