Inflammatory challenges of the airway mucosa cause luminal entry of bulk plasma. Extravasation of plasma is well described but the routes for epithelial passage of plasma are largely unknown. Using colloidal gold (5 nm) as tracer we have now examined the fate of extravasated plasma in the airways. The tracer was given intravenously to anaesthetized, ovalbumin-sensitized guinea-pigs 2min prior to airway mucosal challenge with 12pmol ovalbumin (the dose was selected from a separate dose-response study). Tissue specimens were collected 30s, 3 and 6 min after end of challenge (separate time course experiments suggested that the peak rate of entry of plasma occurred at about 5 min). The colloidal gold particles were visualized by autometallographic silver intensification. The gold produced no circulatory disturbance and had a uniform vascular distribution with negligible adherence to vascular endothelium. After challenge gold was first widely distributed in the lamina propria. At 3 and 6 min the tracer was also in the epithelium and airway lumen. It appeared that plasma was moved distinctly between and all around each epithelial cell. Bright field-, scanning-, and transmission electron-microscopy indicated that the luminal entry of plasma did not affect the integrity of the epithelial lining. This study demonstrates that the plasma exudate moves across an intact epithelial layer through ubiquitous paracellular pathways. Even at a pronounced acute plasma exudation response exceedingly small amounts of plasma may pass around a single cell explaining the non-injurious nature of mucosal exudation of bulk plasma in health and disease.
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