Cigarette Smoke, Airway Epithelial Cells and Host Defence

David M. Comer, J. Stuart Elborn, Madeleine Ennis

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In COPD inflammation driven by exposure to tobacco smoke results in impaired innate immunity in the airway and ultimately to lung injury and remodeling. To understand the biological processes involved in host interactions with cigarette derived toxins submerged epithelial cell culture is widely accepted as a model for primary human airway epithelial cell culture research. Primary nasal and bronchial epithelial cells can also be cultured in air-liquid interface (ALI) models. ALI and submerged culture models have their individual merits, and the decision to use either technique should primarily be determined primarily by the research hypothesis.

Cigarette smoke has gaseous and particulate matter, the latter constituent primarily represented in cigarette smoke extract (CSE). Although not ideal in order to facilitate our understanding of the responses of epithelial cells to cigarette smoke, CSE still has scientific merit in airway cell biology research. Using this model, it has been possible to demonstrate differences in levels of tight junction disruption after CSE exposure along with varied vulnerability to the toxic effects of CSE in cell cultures derived from COPD and control study groups.

Primary nasal epithelial cells (PNECs) have been used as an alternative to bronchial epithelial cells (PBECs). However, at least in subjects with COPD, PNECs cannot consistently substitute for PBECs. Although airway epithelial cells from patients with COPD exhibit a constitutional pro-inflammatory phenotype, these cells have a diminished inflammatory response to CSE exposure. COPD epithelial cells have an increased susceptibility to undergo apoptosis, and have reduced levels of Toll-like receptor-4 expression after CSE exposure, both of which may account for the reduced inflammatory response observed in this group.

The use of CSE in both submerged and ALI epithelial cultures has extended our understanding of the cellular mechanisms that are important in COPD, and helped to unravel important pathways which may be of relevance in its pathogenesis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-246
Number of pages14
JournalInflammation and Cell Signaling
Issue number4
Early online date11 Sept 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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