Recently, much attention has been focused on the airway structural changes accompanying chronic, severe asthma, and the potential ramifications of these changes for airway function and medical management. Airway remodeling may exaggerate airway narrowing by: (i) thickening of the airway wall internal to the smooth muscle, thereby increasing the luminal obstruction generated by a given degree of smooth muscle shortening; (ii) increasing the amount of smooth muscle, thereby increasing shortening; and/or (iii) reducing the load on the smooth muscle, either by increasing the compliance of the airway wall or by reducing airway-parenchymal interdependence. The possibility also exists that airway remodeling represents a protective mechanism against excessive airway narrowing. The major airway structural changes occurring in asthma are subepithelial protein deposition and increased airway smooth muscle mass (hypertrophy, hyperplasia, or both). Several investigators have found correlations between the magnitudes of subepithelial thickening and smooth muscle hypertrophy/hyperplasia and the severity of airways disease, though interpretation has been made difficult by study differences in patient population, treatment, indices of disease severity, and morphometric technique. Taken together, these data suggest that increases in airway remodeling may contribute significantly to the airflow obstruction observed in patients with asthma. However, data proving a causal relationship between airway remodeling and asthma severity remain elusive.
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