Host defense impairments that may lead to respiratory infections

H. Y. Reynolds

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Host defense mechanisms spaced along the respiratory tree and in the alveolar spaces effectively remove or contend with micro-organisms that enter the airways, so serious lung infections occur rarely in healthy people. Special circumstances, such as virgin exposure to a virulent microbe or a large innoculum of a pathogen, can result in illness, but usually routine surveillance host defenses are protective and suffice to keep colonizing airway flora in check. When pneumonia develops or recurrent sino-pulmonary infection exists, however, some element of the normal defense apparatus may have failed or is inadequate. This review highlights several components of the apparatus, that is immunoglobulins IgG and IgA and the interaction of alveolar macrophages and lymphocytes, and examines deficiences in their function that may result in infection. Along the conducting airways, poor mucociliary clearance and/or deficiencies in certain IgG subclass antibodies or destruction of IgA may predispose to sinopulmonary infections; these may be a manifestation of a hereditary disease. In pneumonia the alveolar macrophage is positioned as the central cell which must respond in several directions. This scavenger phagocyte first intercepts the microbe and either can kill or contain it or must call in some other phagocytic cell or inflammatory mediator(s) for assistance. Opsonic antibodies (IgG) and other nonimmune opsonins (complement and surfactant or fibronectin fragments) facilitate phagocytosis, but an absence of antibody may permit infection to develop with encapsulated bacteria (pneumococcus). Insufficient bone marrow reserves of PMNs or a paucity of chemotactic factors to attract them into the alveoli is a situation that may permit gram-negative bacilli and fungal organisms to flourish. Inability of immune T-lymphocytes to energize macrophages, through soluble cellular mediators that provide cell-mediated immunity and activation, makes containment of certain intracellular microbes impossible for these phagocytes (Legionella or mycobacteria). Likewise, concomitant infection of macrophages with viruses (human immunodeficiency virus, and cytomegalovirus or herpes viruses) plus an excessive-T-lymphocyte suppressor cell influence may make P. carinii and common bacterial and fungal organisms difficult to contain in the lungs of AIDS patients. Consideration about what the lung host deficiency might be can make therapy more specific through immunization to develop special antibodies, replacement of certain immunoglobulins (IgG subclasses), or selective administration of cell mediators (gamma-interferon or interleukins).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)339-358
Number of pages20
JournalClinics in Chest Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1987

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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