Cytolysis and piecemeal degranulation as distinct modes of activation of airway mucosal eosinophils

Jonas Erjefält, M Andersson, Lennart Greiff, M Korsgren, M Gizycki, P K Jeffery, G A Persson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Cytotoxic eosinophil granule proteins are considered important in the pathogenesis of inflammatory airway diseases, including asthma, rhinitis, and polyposis. However, little is known about the mechanisms involved in the deposition of these tissue-damaging granular products in vivo. OBJECTIVE: We sought to determine the occurrence of degranulating eosinophils, those with morphologic evidence of cytolysis with associated clusters of free eosinophil granules (Cfegs), and to identify the frequency of apoptotic eosinophils in inflamed upper airway tissue. METHODS: Eosinophil-rich nasal polyps were processed for transmission electron microscopy and for light microscopic evaluation of whole-mount preparations subjected to deep tissue staining for eosinophil peroxidase. RESULTS: The mean proportion of eosinophil subtypes were intact and resting (6.8%), intact but degranulating (83%), cytolytic or Cfegs (9.9%), and apoptotic (0.0%). All degranulating eosinophils exhibited piecemeal degranulation. The occurrence of Cfegs was confirmed in nonsectioned whole-mount preparations. Depending on the appearance of their core and matrix, the specific granules were divided into four subtypes, and a degranulation index (altered per total granules) was calculated for each eosinophil. Cytolytic eosinophils had a much lower degranulation index than intact eosinophils present in the same tissue (P < .001). CONCLUSIONS: These data indicate that eosinophil cytolysis is present in human airway mucosa, that its occurrence is not an artifact of the means of tissue handling, and that cytolysis of eosinophils may occur without prior extensive degranulation. We suggest that eosinophil cytolysis is a major activation mechanism, which occurs along with, but is distinct from, other types of degranulation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)286-294
JournalJournal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1998

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Respiratory Medicine and Allergy


  • Allergy
  • nasal polyps
  • eosinophils
  • cytolysis
  • apoptosis
  • degranulation
  • eosinophil peroxidase
  • electron microscopy


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