Chloé Michaudel1, Louis Fauconnier2, Yvon Julé3 & Bernhard Ryffel1,4,5
Environmental air pollutants including ozone cause severe lung injury and aggravate respiratory diseases such as asthma and COPD. Here we compared the effect of ozone on respiratory epithelium injury, inflammation, hyperreactivity and airway remodeling in mice upon acute (1ppm, 1 h) and chronic exposure (1.5ppm, 2 h, twice weekly for 6 weeks). Acute ozone exposure caused respiratory epithelial disruption with protein leak and neutrophil recruitment in the broncho-alveolar space, leading to lung inflammation and airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR) to methacholine. All these parameters were increased upon chronic ozone exposure, including collagen deposition. The structure of the airways as assessed by automatic numerical image analysis showed significant differences: While acute ozone exposure increased bronchial and lumen circularity but decreased epithelial thickness and area, chronic ozone exposure revealed epithelial injury with reduced height, distended bronchioles, enlarged alveolar space and increased collagen deposition, indicative of peribronchiolar fibrosis and emphysema as characterized by a significant increase in the density and diameter of airspaces with decreased airspace numbers. In conclusion, morphometric numerical analysis enables an automatic and unbiased assessment of small airway remodeling. The structural changes of the small airways correlated with functional changes allowing to follow the progression from acute to chronic ozone induced respiratory pathology.