Physical environment of immune cells in the lung could impact response to infection

The mechanical properties of immune cells in the lungs may influence their response when fighting infection, according to a study published in Nature.

As immune cells move to different compartments of the lungs, they can be exposed to a range of environmental cues that impact their functioning. To study this phenomenon, researchers subjected immune cells to a pressure chamber that mimics the pressure often created inside tiny air sacs, called alveoli, during  breathing. They noticed that immune cells respond to mechanical cues sensed by an ion channel called PIEZO1, located on the surface of the cells.

Researchers then used mice with pulmonary fibrosis deficient in the PIEZO1 gene, which links mechanical forces to biological signals. When exposed to bacteria, the mice showed a reduced ability to stimulate immune cells to fight off infection. The results showed that force and pressure in the lungs could alter how immune cells respond to infection, potentially providing insight into why diseases such as lung fibrosis are hard to treat.