The airway epithelium, through pattern recognition receptors expressed transmembrane or intracellularly, acts as a first line of defense for the lungs against many environmental triggers. It is involved in the release of alarmin cytokines, which are important mediators of inflammation, with receptors widely expressed in structural cells as well as innate and adaptive immune cells. Knowledge of the role of epithelial cells in orchestrating the immune response and mediating the clearance of invading pathogens and dead/damaged cells to facilitate resolution of inflammation is necessary to understand how, in many chronic lung diseases, there is a persistent inflammatory response that becomes the basis of underlying pathogenesis. This review will focus on the role of pulmonary epithelial cells and of airway epithelial cell alarmins, in particular thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP) and high mobility group box 1 (HMGB1), as key mediators in driving the inflammation of chronic lung diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), evaluating the similarities and differences. Moreover, emerging concepts regarding the therapeutic role of molecules that act on airway epithelial cell alarmins will be explored for a precision medicine approach in the context of pulmonary diseases, thus allowing the use of these molecules as possible predictive biomarkers of clinical and biological response.
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