In chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the progressive loss of lung tissue is widely considered irreversible. Thus, various treatment and rehabilitation schemes, including exercise-based pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) are thought to slow down but not reverse or halt the disease. Nonetheless, the adult lung conceals the intrinsic capacity for de novo lung tissue formation in the form of abundant progenitor/stem cell populations. In COPD, these maintain their differentiation potential but appear to be halted by a state of cellular senescence in the mesenchyme, which normally functions to support and coordinate their function. We propose that notably high-intensity interval training may improve pulmonary gas exchange during exercise in patients with COPD by interrupting mesenchymal senescence, thus reestablishing adaptive angiogenesis. By means of this, the downward spiral of dyspnea, poor quality of life, physical inactivity, and early death often observed in COPD may be interrupted. If this is the case, the perception of the regenerative capacity of the lungs will be fundamentally changed, which will warrant future clinical trials on various exercise schemes and other treatments targeting the formation of new lung tissue in COPD.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology: Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology
Issue number6
Pages (from-to) L659-L666
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


  • angiogenesis
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • diffusing capacity
  • exercise capacity
  • pulmonary rehabilitation
  • stem cell


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