COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a treatable and preventable disease state, characterized by progressive airflow limitation that is not fully reversible. It is a current and growing cause of mortality and morbidity worldwide, with the WHO (World Health Organization) projecting that total deaths attributed to COPD will increase by more than 30% in the next 10 years. The pathological hallmarks of COPD are destruction of the lung parenchyma (pulmonary emphysema), inflammation of the central airways (chronic bronchitis) and inflammation of the peripheral airways (respiratory bronchiolitis). The destructive changes and tissue remodelling observed in COPD are a result of complex interactions between cells of the innate and adaptive immune systems. The focus of the present review is directed towards the role of CD8+ T-lymphocytes, NK (natural killer) cells and NKT cells (NK T-cells). These three classes of killer cell could all play an important part in the pathogenesis of COPD. The observed damage to the pulmonary tissue could be caused in three ways: (i) direct cytotoxic effect against the lung epithelium mediated by the activities of perforin and granzymes, (ii) FasL (Fas ligand)-induced apoptosis and/or (iii) cytokine and chemokine release. The present review considers the role of these killer cells in COPD.

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