Toxins and Ciliary Movement

Many toxic substances can affect the efficiency with which the cells lining the trachea and lungs can remove irritating particles via the action of cilia on their surface. Studies on isolated tissue from the lungs of cattle have been used to study the effects of toxins found in cigarette smoke on ciliary motility. Low concentrations of acetaldehyde, a component of cigarette smoke, have been shown to inhibit ciliary activity.

The drawing on the left illustrates the relationship between the different types of cells that line the trachea and bronchioles in the lung. The three cell types shown here are the elongate ciliated epithelial cells, goblet cells and basal cells.

Goblet cells produce mucus that traps particles. The mucus is moved along the surface of the trachea by the organized beating of the cilia. Substances that inhibit the beating of the cilia also inhibit the movement of the mucus. This is one factor contributing to smoker's cough as coughing is an attempt to clear mucus from the lungs. The mechanism by which the components in cigarette smoke alter the ciliary movement of mucus is under investigation.


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