Structure and function of airway surface layer of the human lungs & mobility of probe particles in complex fluids Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Cai, Liheng
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Applied Physical Sciences
  • Numerous infectious particles such as bacteria and pathogens are deposited on the airway surface of the human lungs during our daily breathing. To avoid infection the lung has evolved to develop a smart and powerful defense system called mucociliary clearance. The airway surface layer is a critical component of this mucus clearance system, which consists of two parts: (1) a mucus layer, that traps inhaled particles and transports them out of the lung by cilia-generated flow; and (2) a periciliary layer, that provides a favorable environment for ciliary beating and cell surface lubrication. For 75 years, it has been dogma that a single gel-like mucus layer, which is composed of secreted mucin glycoproteins, is transported over a watery periciliary layer. This one-gel model, however, does not explain fundamental features of the normal system, e.g. formation of a distinct mucus layer, nor accurately predict how the mucus clearance system fails in disease. In the first part of this thesis we propose a novel Gel-on-Brush model with a mucus layer (the gel) and a brush-like periciliary layer, composed of mucins tethered to the luminal of airway surface, and supporting data accurately describes both the biophysical and cell biological bases for normal mucus clearance and its failure in disease. Our Gel-on-Brush model describes for the first time how and why mucus is efficiently cleared in health and unifies the pathogenesis of major human diseases, including cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It is expected that this Gel-on-Brush model of airway surface layer opens new directions for treatments of airway diseases. A dilemma regarding the function of mucus is that, although mucus traps any inhaled harmful particulates, it also poses a long-time problem for drug delivery: mobility of cargos carrying pharmaceutical agents is slowed down in mucus. The second part of this thesis aims to answer the question: can we theoretically understand the relation between the motion of a probe particle and the local structure and dynamics of complex fluids such as mucus, or even one step back, simple polymer solutions and gels? It is well known that the thermal motion of a particle in simple solutions like water can be described by Stokes-Einstein relation, in which the mean-square displacement of the particle is (1) linearly proportional to time and (2) inversely proportional to the bulk viscosity of the solution. We found that these two statements become questionable if the particle size is relatively small and the solutions become complex fluids such as polymer solutions and gels. The motion of small particles with size smaller than the entanglement length (network mesh size) of a polymer solution (gel) is sub-diffusive with mean-square displacement proportional to the square root of time at relatively short time scales. Even at long time scales at which the mean-square displacement of the particles is diffusive, the mean-square displacement of the particles is not necessarily determined by the bulk viscosity, and is inversely proportional to an effective viscosity that is much smaller than the bulk value. An interesting question related to the particle motion in polymer gels is whether particles with size larger than the network mesh size can move through the gel? An intuitive answer would be that such large particles are trapped by the local network cages. We argue that the large particles can still diffuse via hopping mechanism, i.e., particles can wait for fluctuations of surrounding network cages that could be large enough to allow them to slip though. This hopping diffusion can be applied to understand the motion of large particles subjected to topological constraints such as permanent or reversible crosslinked networks as well as entanglements in high molecular weight polymer solutions, melts, and networks.
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  • ... in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Curriculum in Applied Sciences and Engineering.
  • Rubinstein, Michael

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