Alveolar Epithelial Cells in Mycobacterium tuberculosis Infection: Active Players or Innocent Bystanders?

Julia M. Scordo, Daren L. Knoell, Jordi B. Torrelles

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease that kills one person every 18 s. TB remains a global threat due to the emergence of drugresistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M.tb) strains and the lack of an efficient vaccine. The ability of M.tb to persist in latency, evade recognition following seroconversion, and establish resistance in vulnerable populations warrants closer examination. Past and current research has primarily focused on examination of the role of alveolar macrophages and dendritic cells during M.tb infection, which are critical in the establishment of the host response during infection. However, emerging evidence indicates that the alveolar epithelium is a harbor for M.tb and critical during progression to active disease. Here we evaluate the relatively unexplored role of the alveolar epithelium as a reservoir and also its capacity to secrete soluble mediators upon M.tb exposure, which influence the extent of infection. We further discuss how the M.tb-alveolar epithelium interaction instigates cellto-cell crosstalk that regulates the immune balance between a proinflammatory and an immunoregulatory state, thereby prohibiting or allowing the establishment of infection. We propose that consideration of alveolar epithelia provides a more comprehensive understanding of the lung environment in vivo in the context of host defense against M.tb.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-14
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Innate Immunity
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Alveolar epithelial cell
  • Innate immunity
  • Lung environment
  • Tuberculosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy


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