A bronchial cell is a cell from the lining of the bronchi, the network of tubes used to convey air to the lungs. Bronchial cells are responsible for producing lubricating mucus to keep the airways functional and they are a type of epithelial cell, a term used generally to refer to cells lining the inside or outside of the body. These cells may be collected for culture if a doctor suspects a patient has a bronchial cell mutation or abnormalities, using a technique called bronchoscopy. In a bronchoscopy, a camera is inserted into the airways to allow a doctor to inspect them and take samples, if needed.
These cells are constantly renewing to maintain a healthy epithelium in the bronchi. They generate mucus and a number of other compounds. Although gas exchange does not occur inside the bronchi, the bronchial cells do play an important role in respiration, and when there are mutations or other errors in these cells, health problems can develop. Patients with cystic fibrosis, for example, experience excessive mucus production leading to obstructions in the airways.
When patients experience inflammation of the airways, as seen in bronchitis, these cells can swell and become irritated. This may lead to impaired breathing and the patient can also start coughing up copious mucus as a result of inflammation in the bronchi and lungs. People with a history of inflammation may develop scarring and can be at risk of cancerous growths caused by bronchial cell mutations, a common problem when cell turnover is high, creating more room for errors in cell division and reproduction.
Like other epithelial cells, a bronchial cell can also spontaneously mutate, creating malignant growths. The highly branched nature of the bronchi conveniently allows physicians to do things like removing part of a lung and bronchus without causing significant impairment, as the other sections will continue to function. In cases where malignancies are identified, doctors can excise the growth and leave the rest of the airway intact, allowing the remaining structures to take over.
Bronchosopy procedures to look at the airways are usually conducted under sedation or general anesthesia, depending on the nature of the procedure. They can be uncomfortable for patients, and using sedatives will help people relax during the procedure. In a bronchoscopy, the layer of bronchial cells will be visible and doctors can look for cellular changes, areas of thickness, and areas where cells are clearly damaged. Sputum and bronchial cell scrapings can also be taken during the procedure to collect diagnostic information.