Background Remodelling of airway walls is a significant morbidity factor in patients suffering from chronic asthma. The relationship between airway remodelling and the inflammatory response is not well defined. Sheep have been used extensively to model airway disease in humans and represent a suitable model to examine airway remodelling.
Objective The aim of the present study was to develop a model for airway remodelling in sheep after repeated challenge with a relevant human allergen to assess the relationship of airway remodelling with inflammation.
Methods Repeated challenges of house dust mite (HDM) extract or saline (control) were administered to local lung segments of sheep for a period of 6 months. After the last challenge, lung tissues from both challenged and unchallenged lung compartments of the same sheep were compared using morphometric image analysis and (immuno) histological studies.
Results All HDM-challenged sheep developed significant bronchoalveolar lavage eosinophilia during challenge. At the end of the challenge period, significant increases in airway collagen and airway smooth muscle content were found in a proportion (3/7) of the HDM-challenged sheep. Hyperplasia of goblet cells and epithelial cells were observed in small bronchi and bronchioles exposed to allergen. Irrespective of airway remodelling changes, all HDM-challenged, but no saline-challenged sheep, displayed significant increases in mast cells in alveolar septa and airway walls of challenged lungs compared with untreated lung compartments of the same sheep. Significant increases were also observed in CD5 and γδ T cell subpopulations in all allergen-exposed lung parenchyma.
Conclusion A proportion of atopic sheep develop typical airway remodelling changes after chronic allergen challenge, which is not directly related to the level of allergic inflammation.