Restoring airway epithelial barrier dysfunction: a new therapeutic challenge in allergic airway disease.
An intact functional mucosal barrier is considered to be crucial for the maintenance of airway homeostasis as it protects the host immune system from exposure to allergens and noxious environmental triggers. Recent data provided evidence for the contribution of barrier dysfunction to the development of inflammatory diseases in the airways, skin and gut. A defective barrier has been documented in chronic rhinosinusitis, allergic rhinitis, asthma, atopic dermatitis and inflammatory bowel diseases. However, it remains to be elucidated to what extent primary (genetic) versus secondary (inflammatory) mechanisms drive barrier dysfunction. The precise pathogenesis of barrier dysfunction in patients with chronic mucosal inflammation and its implications on tissue inflammation and systemic absorption of exogenous particles are only partly understood. Since epithelial barrier defects are linked with chronicity and severity of airway inflammation, restoring the barrier integrity may become a useful approach in the treatment of allergic diseases. We here provide a state-of-the-art review on epithelial barrier dysfunction in upper and lower airways as well as in the intestine and the skin and on how barrier dysfunction can be restored from a therapeutic perspective.