To reach an inflammatory lesion, neutrophils must frequently traverse the epithelium of an infected organ. Whether the actual migration of neutrophils alters the epithelial permeability is unknown. Through the use of an in vitro model system it was possible to directly determine the effect of neutrophil emigration on the transepithelial electrical resistance of the monolayer. Human neutrophils (5 X 10(6) cells/ml) were placed in the upper compartment of a combined chemotaxis/resistance chamber and stimulated for 40 min by a gradient of 10(-7) M n-formyl-methionyl-leucyl-phenylalanine to traverse a confluent monolayer of canine kidney epithelial cells grown on micropore filters. Neither the chemoattractant alone (10(-5)-10(-9) M) nor the accumulation of an average of eight neutrophils per millimeter of epithelium lowered the transepithelial electrical resistance. However, under certain conditions the migration of neutrophils temporarily increased the permeability of the monolayer. The resistance fell approximately 48% within 5 min if the migratory cells were stimulated to reverse their migration across the same monolayer. As re-migration continued, the resistance returned to its initial levels within 60 min. Doubling the initial neutrophil concentration to 10 X 10(6) cells/ml resulted in the accumulation of an average of 66 neutrophils per millimeter of epithelium and an average fall in resistance of 46% (r = 0.98; P less than 0.001) in 40 min. If the resistance had fallen less than 45%, removal of the neutrophils remaining in the upper compartment resulted in a return of the transepithelial electrical resistance to its initial level within 65 min. However, when the fall was greater than 45%, the resistance only recovered to 23.5% of its initial levels within the same time frame. Thus, these results suggest that the integrity of an epithelium can, under certain conditions, be affected by the emigration of neutrophils, but that this effect is either completely or partially reversible within 65 min.

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