The response of cultured human nasal epithelia to hypertonic bathing solutions was tested using ion-selective microelectrode and quantitative microscopy. Raised luminal, but not serosal, osmolality (+/- 150 mM mannitol) decreased Na+ absorption but did not induce Cl- secretion. Raised luminal osmolality increased cell Cl- activity, Na+ activity, and transepithelial resistance and decreased both apical and basolateral membrane potentials and the fractional resistance of the apical membrane; equivalent circuit analysis revealed increases in apical, basolateral, and shunt resistances. Prolonged exposure (10 min) to 430 mosM luminal solution elicited no regulation of any parameter. Optical measurements revealed a reduction in the thickness of preparations only in response to luminal hypertonic solutions. We conclude that (a) airway epithelial cells exhibit asymmetric water transport properties, with the apical membrane water permeability exceeding that of the basolateral membrane; (b) the cellular response to volume loss is a deactivation of the basolateral membrane K+ conductance and the apical membrane Cl- conductance; (c) luminal hypertonicity slows the rate of Na+ absorption but does not induce Cl- secretion; and (d) cell volume loss increases the resistance of the paracellular path. We speculate that these properties configure human nasal epithelium to behave as an osmotic sensor, transducing information about luminal solutions to the airway wall.
N J Willumsen, C W Davis, R C Boucher