Although prior studies have demonstrated a smoking-induced field of molecular injury throughout the lung and airway, the impact of smoking on the airway epithelial proteome and its relationship to smoking-related changes in the airway transcriptome are unclear.
Airway epithelial cells were obtained from never (n = 5) and current (n = 5) smokers by brushing the mainstem bronchus. Proteins were separated by one dimensional polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (1D-PAGE). After in-gel digestion, tryptic peptides were processed via liquid chromatography/ tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) and proteins identified. RNA from the same samples was hybridized to HG-U133A microarrays. Protein detection was compared to RNA expression in the current study and a previously published airway dataset. The functional properties of many of the 197 proteins detected in a majority of never smokers were similar to those observed in the never smoker airway transcriptome. LC-MS/MS identified 23 proteins that differed between never and current smokers. Western blotting confirmed the smoking-related changes of PLUNC, P4HB1, and uteroglobin protein levels. Many of the proteins differentially detected between never and current smokers were also altered at the level of gene expression in this cohort and the prior airway transcriptome study. There was a strong association between protein detection and expression of its corresponding transcript within the same sample, with 86% of the proteins detected by LC-MS/MS having a detectable corresponding probeset by microarray in the same sample. Forty-one proteins identified by LC-MS/MS lacked detectable expression of a corresponding transcript and were detected in ≤5% of airway samples from a previously published dataset.
1D-PAGE coupled with LC-MS/MS effectively profiled the airway epithelium proteome and identified proteins expressed at different levels as a result of cigarette smoke exposure. While there was a strong correlation between protein and transcript detection within the same sample, we also identified proteins whose corresponding transcripts were not detected by microarray. This noninvasive approach to proteomic profiling of airway epithelium may provide additional insights into the field of injury induced by tobacco exposure.
Although cigarette smoking is the major cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), only a subset of smokers develops this disease. There is significant clinical, radiographic, and pathologic heterogeneity within smokers who develop COPD that likely reflects multiple molecular mechanisms of disease. It is possible that variations in the individual response to cigarette smoking form the basis for the distinct clinical and molecular phenotypes and variable natural history associated with COPD. Using the biologic premise of a molecular field of airway injury created by cigarette smoking, this response to tobacco exposure can be measured by molecular profiling of the airway epithelium. Noninvasive study of this field effect by profiling airway gene expression in patients with COPD holds important implications for our understanding of disease heterogeneity, early disease detection, and identification of novel disease-modifying therapies.
airway gene expression; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; bioinformatics
The first changes associated with smoking are in the small airway epithelium (SAE). Given that smoking alters SAE gene expression, but only a fraction of smokers develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), we hypothesized that assessment of SAE genome-wide gene expression would permit biologic phenotyping of the smoking response, and that a subset of healthy smokers would have a “COPD-like” SAE transcriptome.
SAE (10th–12th generation) was obtained via bronchoscopy of healthy nonsmokers, healthy smokers and COPD smokers and microarray analysis was used to identify differentially expressed genes. Individual responsiveness to smoking was quantified with an index representing the % of smoking-responsive genes abnormally expressed (ISAE), with healthy smokers grouped into “high” and “low” responders based on the proportion of smoking-responsive genes up- or down-regulated in each smoker. Smokers demonstrated significant variability in SAE transcriptome with ISAE ranging from 2.9 to 51.5%. While the SAE transcriptome of “low” responder healthy smokers differed from both “high” responders and smokers with COPD, the transcriptome of the “high” responder healthy smokers was indistinguishable from COPD smokers.
The SAE transcriptome can be used to classify clinically healthy smokers into subgroups with lesser and greater responses to cigarette smoking, even though these subgroups are indistinguishable by clinical criteria. This identifies a group of smokers with a “COPD-like” SAE transcriptome.
Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related deaths. Tobacco smoke exposure is the strongest aetiological factor associated with lung cancer. In this study, using serial analysis of gene expression (SAGE), we comprehensively examined the effect of active smoking by comparing the transcriptomes of clinical specimens obtained from current, former and never smokers, and identified genes showing both reversible and irreversible expression changes upon smoking cessation.
Twenty-four SAGE profiles of the bronchial epithelium of eight current, twelve former and four never smokers were generated and analyzed. In total, 3,111,471 SAGE tags representing over 110 thousand potentially unique transcripts were generated, comprising the largest human SAGE study to date. We identified 1,733 constitutively expressed genes in current, former and never smoker transcriptomes. We have also identified both reversible and irreversible gene expression changes upon cessation of smoking; reversible changes were frequently associated with either xenobiotic metabolism, nucleotide metabolism or mucus secretion. Increased expression of TFF3, CABYR, and ENTPD8 were found to be reversible upon smoking cessation. Expression of GSK3B, which regulates COX2 expression, was irreversibly decreased. MUC5AC expression was only partially reversed. Validation of select genes was performed using quantitative RT-PCR on a secondary cohort of nine current smokers, seven former smokers and six never smokers.
Expression levels of some of the genes related to tobacco smoking return to levels similar to never smokers upon cessation of smoking, while expression of others appears to be permanently altered despite prolonged smoking cessation. These irreversible changes may account for the persistent lung cancer risk despite smoking cessation.
We have previously defined the impact of tobacco smoking on nasal epithelium gene expression using Affymetrix Exon 1.0 ST arrays. In this paper, we compared the performance of the Affymetrix GeneChip Human Gene 1.0 ST array with the Human Exon 1.0 ST array for detecting nasal smoking-related gene expression changes. RNA collected from the nasal epithelium of five current smokers and five never smokers was hybridized to both arrays. While the intersample correlation within each array platform was relatively higher in the Gene array than that in the Exon array, the majority of the genes most changed by smoking were tightly correlated between platforms. Although neither array dataset was powered to detect differentially expressed genes (DEGs) at a false discovery rate (FDR) <0.05, we identified more DEGs than expected by chance using the Gene ST array. These findings suggest that while both platforms show a high degree of correlation for detecting smoking-induced differential gene expression changes, the Gene ST array may be a more cost-effective platform in a clinical setting for gene-level genomewide expression profiling and an effective tool for exploring the host response to cigarette smoking and other inhaled toxins.
The bronchial glands in the main bronchus and succeeding generations of the inferior lingular airway have ben studied in 10 left lungs removed surgically for lung cancer. The ratios of sulphated to sialidated mucin found did not coincide with previous results and suggested that this is not a useful measurement for the assessment of cigarette smoke or other inhaled pollutants. The total acid mucin, measured as a percentage of bronchial gland present, showed the same trends as previously reported--namely, more storage of mucin in non-smokers and in more distal generations. The large dose of cigarettes smoked by the patients in the present series was reflected by a lower level of acid mucin storage, and this measure is potentially useful for assessing exposure to cigarette smoke and other inhaled pollutants. The percentages of mucous and serous cells in successive generations of an airway are recorded for the first time in these smokers and in a "normal" postmortem specimen. The results suggest that similar proportions of mucous and serous cells exist in both large and small airways, but with a tendency in the smokers for more mucous cells in the more distal generations.
Despite overwhelming data that cigarette smoking causes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), only a minority of chronic smokers are affected, strongly suggesting that genetic factors modify susceptibility to this disease. We hypothesized that there are individual variations in the response to cigarette smoking, with variability among smokers in expression levels of protective / susceptibility genes.
Affymetrix arrays and TaqMan PCR were used to assess the variability of gene expression in the small airway epithelium obtained by fiberoptic bronchoscopy of 18 normal non-smokers, 18 normal smokers and 18 smokers with COPD.
We identified 201 probesets representing 152 smoking-responsive genes that were significantly up- or down-regulated, and assessed the coefficient of variation in expression levels among the study population. Variation was a reproducible property of each gene as assessed by different microarray probesets and realtime PCR and was observed in both normal smokers and smokers with COPD. There was greater individual variability in smokers with COPD than in normal smokers. The majority of these highly variable smoking responsive genes were in the functional categories of signal transduction, xenobiotic degradation, metabolism, transport, oxidant-related and transcription. A similar pattern of the same highly variable genes was observed in an independent data set.
We propose that there is likely genetic diversity within this subset of genes with highly variable individual to individual responses of the small airway epithelium to smoking, and this subset of genes represent putative candidates for assessment of susceptibility/protection from disease in future gene-based epidemiological studies of smokers’ risk for COPD.
Cigarette smoke creates a molecular field of injury in epithelial cells that line the respiratory tract. We hypothesized that transcriptome sequencing (RNA-Seq) will enhance our understanding of the field of molecular injury in response to tobacco smoke exposure and lung cancer pathogenesis by identifying gene expression differences not interrogated or accurately measured by microarrays. We sequenced the high-molecular-weight fraction of total RNA (>200 nt) from pooled bronchial airway epithelial cell brushings (n = 3 patients per pool) obtained during bronchoscopy from healthy never smoker (NS) and current smoker (S) volunteers and smokers with (C) and without (NC) lung cancer undergoing lung nodule resection surgery. RNA-Seq libraries were prepared using 2 distinct approaches, one capable of capturing non-polyadenylated RNA (the prototype NuGEN Ovation RNA-Seq protocol) and the other designed to measure only polyadenylated RNA (the standard Illumina mRNA-Seq protocol) followed by sequencing generating approximately 29 million 36 nt reads per pool and approximately 22 million 75 nt paired-end reads per pool, respectively. The NuGEN protocol captured additional transcripts not detected by the Illumina protocol at the expense of reduced coverage of polyadenylated transcripts, while longer read lengths and a paired-end sequencing strategy significantly improved the number of reads that could be aligned to the genome. The aligned reads derived from the two complementary protocols were used to define the compendium of genes expressed in the airway epithelium (n = 20,573 genes). Pathways related to the metabolism of xenobiotics by cytochrome P450, retinol metabolism, and oxidoreductase activity were enriched among genes differentially expressed in smokers, whereas chemokine signaling pathways, cytokine–cytokine receptor interactions, and cell adhesion molecules were enriched among genes differentially expressed in smokers with lung cancer. There was a significant correlation between the RNA-Seq gene expression data and Affymetrix microarray data generated from the same samples (P < 0.001); however, the RNA-Seq data detected additional smoking- and cancer-related transcripts whose expression was were either not interrogated by or was not found to be significantly altered when using microarrays, including smoking-related changes in the inflammatory genes S100A8 and S100A9 and cancer-related changes in MUC5AC and secretoglobin (SCGB3A1). Quantitative real-time PCR confirmed differential expression of select genes and non-coding RNAs within individual samples. These results demonstrate that transcriptome sequencing has the potential to provide new insights into the biology of the airway field of injury associated with smoking and lung cancer. The measurement of both coding and non-coding transcripts by RNA-Seq has the potential to help elucidate mechanisms of response to tobacco smoke and to identify additional biomarkers of lung cancer risk and novel targets for chemoprevention.
Cystatin A (gene: CSTA), is up-regulated in non-small-cell lung cancer(NSCLC) and dysplastic vs normal human bronchial epithelium. In the context that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a small airway epithelium (SAE) disorder, is independently associated with NSCLC(especially squamous cell carcinoma, SCC), but only occurs in a subset of smokers, we hypothesized that genetic variation, smoking and COPD modulate CSTA gene expression levels in SAE, with further up-regulation in SCC. Gene expression was assessed by microarray in SAE of 178 individuals [healthy nonsmokers (n=60), healthy smokers (n=82), and COPD smokers (n=36)], with corresponding large airway epithelium (LAE) data in a subset (n=52). Blood DNA was genotyped by SNP microarray. Twelve SNPs upstream of the CSTA gene were all significantly associated with CSTA SAE gene expression(p<0.04 to 5 × 10 −4). CSTA gene expression levels in SAE were higher in COPD smokers (28.4 ± 2.0) than healthy smokers (19.9 ± 1.4, p<10−3), who in turn had higher levels than nonsmokers(16.1 ± 1.1, p<0.04). CSTA LAE gene expression was also smoking-responsive (p<10−3). Using comparable publicly available NSCLC expression data, CSTA was up-regulated in SCC vs LAE (p<10−2) and down-regulated in adenocarcinoma vs SAE (p <10−7). All phenotypes were associated with significantly different proportional gene expression of CSTA to cathepsins. The data demonstrate that regulation of CSTA expression in human airway epithelium is influenced by genetic variability, smoking, and COPD, and is further up-regulated in SCC, all of which should be taken into account when considering the role of CSTA in NSCLC pathogenesis.
cystatin; small airway epithelium; gene expression; genotype; COPD
Ten patients with ulcerative colitis, all of whom were non-smokers, presented with a productive cough. In six, the chest radiography was normal and cough was the only symptom; three of these patients had a minor obstructive ventilatory defect on testing. Four patients complained of exertional dyspnoea and had both an abnormal chest radiograph with bilateral pulmonary shadows and a mixed obstructive and restrictive ventilatory defect. Bronchial epithelial biopsies from four patients (two with and two without pulmonary shadows) revealed basal reserve cell hyperplasia, basement membrane thickening, and submucosal inflammation, changes more usually associated with cigarette smoking. Inhaled beclomethasone diproprionate relieved cough in seven patients. The occurrence of airway epithelial disease in association with ulcerative colitis raises the possibility of a systemic mechanism affecting both bronchial and colonic epithelium. It does not seem likely that sulphasalazine was the cause of the pulmonary syndrome in these subjects.
Cigarette smoking is the primary cause of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which is characterized by chronic inflammation of the airways and destruction of lung parenchyma. Repeated and sustained bacterial infections are clearly linked to disease pathogenesis (e.g., exacerbations) and a huge burden on health care costs. The airway epithelium constitutes the first line of host defense against infection and our previous study indicated that Fatty Acid Binding Protein 5 (FABP5) is down regulated in airway epithelial cells of smokers with COPD as compared to smokers without COPD. We hypothesized that cigarette smoke (CS) exposure down regulates FABP5, thus, contributing to a more sustained inflammation in response to bacterial infection. In this report, we show that FABP5 is increased following bacterial infection but decreased following CS exposure of primary normal human bronchial epithelial (NHBE) cells. The goal of this study was to address FABP5 function by knocking down or overexpressing FABP5 in primary NHBE cells exposed to CS. Our data indicate that FABP5 down regulation results in increased P. aeruginosa bacterial load and inflammatory cytokine levels (e.g., IL-8) and decreased expression of the anti-bacterial peptide, β defensin-2. On the contrary, FABP5 overexpression exerts a protective function in airway epithelial cells against P. aeruginosa infection by limiting the production of IL-8 and increasing the expression of β defensin-2. Our study indicates that FABP5 exerts immunomodulatory functions in the airway epithelium against CS exposure and subsequent bacterial infection through its modulation of the nuclear receptor peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR)-γ activity. These findings support the development of FABP5/PPAR-γ-targeted therapeutic approach to prevent airway inflammation by restoring antimicrobial immunity during COPD exacerbations.
In the work of Chari et al. entitled "Effect of active smoking on the human bronchial epithelium transcriptome" the authors use SAGE to identify candidate gene expression changes in bronchial brushings from never, former, and current smokers. These gene expression changes are categorized into those that are reversible or irreversible upon smoking cessation. A subset of these identified genes is validated on an independent cohort using RT-PCR. The authors conclude that their results support the notion of gene expression changes in the lungs of smokers which persist even after an individual has quit.
This correspondence raises questions about the validity of the approach used by the authors to analyze their data. The majority of the reported results suffer deficiencies due to the methods used. The most fundamental of these are explained in detail: biases introduced during data processing, lack of correction for multiple testing, and an incorrect use of clustering for gene discovery. A randomly generated "null" dataset is used to show the consequences of these shortcomings.
Most of Chari et al.'s findings are consistent with what would be expected by chance alone. Although there is clear evidence of reversible changes in gene expression, the majority of those identified appear to be false positives. However, contrary to the authors' claims, no irreversible changes were identified. There is a broad consensus that genetic change due to smoking persists once an individual has quit smoking; unfortunately, this study lacks sufficient scientific rigour to support or refute this hypothesis or identify any specific candidate genes. The pitfalls of large-scale analysis, as exemplified here, may not be unique to Chari et al.
Lectins are innate immune defense proteins that recognize specific bacterial cell wall components. Based on the knowledge that cigarette smoking is associated with increased risk of bacterial infections, we hypothesized that cigarette smoking may modulate the expression of lectin genes in airway epithelium. Affymetrix microarrays were used to survey expression of lectin genes in large airway epithelium from 9 nonsmokers and 20 healthy smokers and in small airway epithelium from 13 nonsmokers and 20 healthy smokers. There were no changes (>2-fold change, p<0.05) in lectin gene expression among healthy smokers compared to nonsmokers except for a striking down regulation of intelectin 1, a lectin that binds to galactofuranosyl residues in the cell walls of bacteria (large airway epithelium, p<0.01; small airway epithelium, p<0.01). This was confirmed by TaqMan RT-PCR in both large (p<0.05) and small airway epithelium (p<0.02). Immunohistochemistry assessment of airway biopsies demonstrated that intelectin 1 was expressed in secretory cells, while Western analysis confirmed the decreased expression of intelectin 1 in airway epithelium of healthy smokers compared to healthy nonsmokers (p<0.02). Finally, compared to healthy nonsmokers, intelectin 1 expression was also decreased in small airway epithelium of smokers with lone emphysema with normal spirometry (n= 13, p<0.01) and smokers with established COPD (n= 14, p<0.01). In the context that intelectin 1 is an epithelial molecule that likely plays a role in defense against bacteria, its down regulation in response to cigarette smoking is another example of the immunomodulatory effects of smoking on the immune system and may contribute to the increase in susceptibility to infections observed in smokers, including those with COPD.
The small airway epithelium and alveolar macrophages are exposed to oxidants in cigarette smoke leading to epithelial dysfunction and macrophage activation. In this context, we asked: what is the transcriptome of oxidant-related genes in small airway epithelium and alveolar macrophages, and does their response differ substantially to inhaled cigarette smoke?
Using microarray analysis, with TaqMan RT-PCR confirmation, we assessed oxidant-related gene expression in small airway epithelium and alveolar macrophages from the same healthy nonsmoker and smoker individuals.
Of 155 genes surveyed, 87 (56%) were expressed in both cell populations in nonsmokers, with higher expression in alveolar macrophages (43%) compared to airway epithelium (24%). In smokers, there were 15 genes (10%) up-regulated and 7 genes (5%) down-regulated in airway epithelium, but only 3 (2%) up-regulated and 2 (1%) down-regulated in alveolar macrophages. Pathway analysis of airway epithelium showed oxidant pathways dominated, but in alveolar macrophages immune pathways dominated.
Thus, the response of different cell-types with an identical genome exposed to the same stress of smoking is different; responses of alveolar macrophages are more subdued than those of airway epithelium. These findings are consistent with the observation that, while the small airway epithelium is vulnerable, alveolar macrophages are not "diseased" in response to smoking.
ClinicalTrials.gov ID: NCT00224185 and NCT00224198
The toll-like receptors (TLRs) are important components of the respiratory epithelium host innate defense, enabling the airway surface to recognize and respond to a variety of insults in inhaled air. Based on the knowledge that smokers are more susceptible to pulmonary infection and that the airway epithelium of smokers with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is characterized by bacterial colonization and acute exacerbation of airway infections, we assessed whether smoking alters expression of TLRs in human small airway epithelium, the primary site of smoking-induced disease. Microarrays were used to survey the TLR family gene expression in small airway (10th–12th order) epithelium from healthy nonsmokers (n=60), healthy smokers (n=73) and smokers with COPD (n=36). Using the criteria of detection call of present in ≥50%, 6 of 10 TLRs (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 8) were expressed. Compared to nonsmokers, the most striking change was for TLR5, which was down-regulated in healthy smokers (1.4-fold, p<10−10) and smokers with COPD (1.6-fold, p<10−11). TaqMan RT-PCR confirmed these observations. Bronchial biopsy immunofluorescence studies showed that TLR5 was expressed mainly on the apical side of the epithelium and was decreased in healthy smokers and smokers with COPD. In vitro, the level of TLR5 downstream genes, IL-6 and IL-8, were highly induced by flagellin in TLR5 high-expressing cells compared to TLR5 low-expressing cells. In the context that TLR5 functions to recognize pathogens and activate innate immune responses, the smoking-induced down-regulation of TLR5 may contribute to smoking-related susceptibility to airway infection, at least for flagellated bacteria.
The toll-like receptors (TLRs) are a key component of host defense in the respiratory epithelium. Cigarette smoking is associated with increased susceptibility to infection, while COPD is characterised by bacterial colonisation and infective exacerbations. We found reduced TLR4 gene expression in the nasal epithelium of smokers compared with non-smoking controls, while TLR2 expression was unchanged. Severe COPD was associated with reduced TLR4 expression compared to less severe disease, with good correlation between nasal and tracheal expression. We went on to examine the effect of potential modulators of TLR4 expression in respiratory epithelium pertinent to airways disease. Using an airway epithelial cell line, we found a dose-dependent downregulation in TLR4 mRNA and protein expression by stimulation with cigarette smoke extracts. Treatment with the corticosteroids fluticasone and dexamethasone resulted in a dose-dependent reduction in TLR4 mRNA and protein. The functional significance of this effect was demonstrated by impaired IL-8 and HBD2 induction in response to LPS. Stimulation with salmeterol (10-6 M) caused upregulation of TLR4 membrane protein presentation with no upregulation of mRNA, suggesting a post-translational effect. The effect of dexamethasone and salmeterol in combination was additive, with downregulation of TLR4 gene expression, and no change in membrane receptor expression. Modulation of TLR4 in respiratory epithelium may have important implications for airway inflammation and infection in response to inhaled pathogens.
Background: To investigate whether nasal and bronchial inflammation coexists in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), nasal and bronchial biopsy specimens from seven control subjects, seven smokers without COPD, and 14 smokers with COPD were studied.
Methods: Nasal and bronchial biopsy specimens were taken from the same patients during bronchoscopy and squamous cell metaplasia and the thickness of the epithelium and basement membrane were measured. The numbers of eosinophils (EG2), neutrophils (elastase), macrophages (CD68), and CD8 T lymphocytes (CD8/144B) were assessed by immunohistochemistry.
Results: Smokers with and without COPD had squamous metaplasia in the nasal and bronchial epithelium. In all groups the thickness of the nasal epithelium was greater than that of the bronchial epithelium. The thickness of the basement membrane was similar in nasal and bronchial biopsy specimens from smokers with and without COPD, but was greater in the bronchi than in the nasal epithelium of controls. Eosinophil number was higher in the nasal and bronchial mucosa of smokers without COPD than in smokers with COPD or controls. Neutrophil number was higher in the nasal and bronchial mucosa of smokers with COPD than in smokers without COPD or controls. CD8 T lymphocyte numbers were similar in smokers with and without COPD and higher than in controls. There were fewer macrophages in nasal and bronchial biopsy specimens from smokers without COPD than in those with COPD.
Conclusion: Nasal and bronchial inflammation coexists in smokers and is characterised by infiltration of CD8 T lymphocytes. In smokers without COPD this feature is associated with an increased number of eosinophils, while in those with COPD it is linked to an increased number of neutrophils in both nasal and bronchial biopsy specimens.
Mucus hypersecretion with elevated MUC5B mucin production is a pathologic feature in many airway diseases associated with oxidative stress. In the present work, we evaluated MUC5B expression in airways and in primary cultures of normal human bronchial epithelial (NHBE) cells, as well as the mechanisms involved in its regulation. We found that oxidative stress generated by cigarette smoke or reactive oxygen species (ROS) induces MUC5B up-regulation in airway epithelium from smokers and in NHBE cells, respectively. We have previously shown that ROS-induced MUC5AC expression in NHBE cells is dependent on hyaluronan depolymerization and epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)/mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) activation. Since hyaluronan fragments can activate MAPK through the hyaluronan receptor CD44, and CD44 heterodimerizes with EGFR, we tested whether ROS and/or hyaluronan fragments induce MUC5B mRNA and protein expression through CD44/EGFR. We found that ROS promotes CD44/EGFR interaction, EGFR/MAPK activation, and MUC5B up-regulation that are prevented by blocking CD44 and/or EGFR. These results were mimicked by hyaluronan fragments. In summary, our results show that oxidative stress in vivo (cigarette smoke) or in vitro (ROS) induces MUC5B up-regulation. This ROS-induced MUC5B expression requires CD44 as well as EGFR and MAPK activation. In addition, we also provide evidence that hyaluronan fragments are sufficient to induce CD44/EGFR interaction and downstream signaling that results in MUC5B up-regulation, suggesting that hyaluronan depolymerization during inflammatory responses could be directly involved in the induction of mucus hypersecretion.
MUC5B; hyaluronan fragments; CD44; airway epithelium
Background: Airway epithelial goblet cell hyperplasia is known to occur in chronic smokers. Although the epidermal growth factor receptor has been implicated in this process, neither ErbB receptor expression nor the mucosecretory phenotype of the epithelium have been characterised in current smokers.
Methods: Bronchial biopsies obtained from non-smokers (n = 10) and current smokers, with or without chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (n = 51), were examined immunohistochemically to measure the expression of epidermal growth factor receptor, ErbB2, ErbB3, ErbB4 and mucin subtypes (MUC2, MUC5AC and MUC5B) in the bronchial epithelium. The results were correlated with neutrophil counts measured in the airway wall and induced sputum.
Results: Epidermal growth factor receptor, ErbB3 and MUC5AC expression, in addition to PAS staining, were significantly increased in all smokers compared with non-smokers, irrespective of the presence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. MUC5AC expression was significantly associated with both PAS staining and ErbB3 expression; no correlation was observed between either mucin or ErbB receptor expression and neutrophil counts.
Conclusions: The results suggest that long term current smoking induces enhanced epidermal growth factor receptor, ErbB3, and MUC5AC expression in vivo; these increases are not associated with the presence of neutrophilic inflammation. ErbB receptors may contribute to epithelial responses to cigarette smoke.
Mucus hypersecretion contributes to the morbidity and mortality of smoking-related lung diseases, especially chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which starts in the small airways. Despite progress in animal studies, the genes and their expression pattern involved in mucus production and secretion in human airway epithelium are not well understood. We hypothesized that comparison of the transcriptomes of the small airway epithelium of individuals that express high vs low levels of MUC5AC, the major macromolecular component of airway mucus, could be used as a probe to identify the genes related to human small airway mucus production/secretion.
Flexible bronchoscopy and brushing were used to obtain small airway epithelium (10th to 12th order bronchi) from healthy nonsmokers (n=60) and healthy smokers (n=72). Affymetrix HG-U133 plus 2.0 microarrays were used to assess gene expression. Massive parallel sequencing (RNA-Seq) was used to verify gene expression of small airway epithelium from 5 nonsmokers and 6 smokers.
MUC5AC expression varied 31-fold among the healthy nonsmokers. Genome-wide comparison between healthy nonsmokers (n = 60) grouped as “high MUC5AC expressors” vs “low MUC5AC expressors” identified 528 genes significantly up-regulated and 15 genes significantly down-regulated in the high vs low expressors. This strategy identified both mucus production and secretion related genes under control of a network composed of multiple transcription factors. Based on the literature, genes in the up-regulated list were used to identify a 73 “MUC5AC-associated core gene” list with 9 categories: mucus component; mucus-producing cell differentiation-related transcription factor; mucus-producing cell differentiation-related pathway or mediator; post-translational modification of mucin; vesicle transport; endoplasmic reticulum stress-related; secretory granule-associated; mucus secretion-related regulator and mucus hypersecretory-related ion channel. As a validation cohort, we assessed the MUC5AC-associated core gene list in the small airway epithelium of an independent set of healthy smokers (n = 72). There was up-regulation of MUC5AC in the small airway epithelium of smokers (2.3-fold, p < 10-8) associated with a coordinated up-regulation of MUC5AC-associated core gene expression pattern in the small airway epithelium of smokers (p < 0.01). Deep sequencing confirmed these observations.
The identification of the genes associated with increased airway mucin production in humans should be useful in understanding the pathogenesis of airway mucus hypersecretion and identifying therapeutic targets.
Mucus hypersecretion contributes to the morbidity and mortality of smoking-related lung diseases, especially chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which starts in the small airways. Little is known about the gene networks associated with the synthesis and secretion of mucins in the human small airway epithelium. Taking advantage of the knowledge that MUC5AC is a major mucin secreted by the small airway epithelium, the expression of MUC5AC in small airway epithelium is highly regulated at the transcriptional level and our observation that healthy nonsmokers have variable numbers of MUC5AC+ secretory cells in the human small airway epithelium, we compared genome-wide gene expression of the small airway epithelium of high vs low MUC5AC expressors from 60 nonsmokers to identify the genes associated with MUC5AC expression. This novel strategy enabled identification of a 73 “MUC5AC-associated core gene” list with 9 categories, which control a series of processes from mucin biosynthesis to mucus secretion. The coordinated gene expression pattern of MUC5AC-associated core genes were corroborated in an independent cohort of 72 healthy smokers. Deep sequencing of small airway epithelium RNA confirmed these observations. This finding will be useful in identifying therapeutic targets to treat small airway mucus hypersecretion.
Bronchial biopsy specimens were studied from 19 patients, comprising five non-smokers, eight current smokers, and six people who had given up smoking between two and 16 years previously. By using a recently developed morphometric technique the structural state of the bronchial epithelium was assessed and described by a score, which specifies the extent to which the epithelial histology departs from the normal, through the changes of mucous-cell hyperplasia and squamous-cell metaplasia. The epithelium was nearer normal in former smokers than current smokers in each of six pairs matched for smoking history. The numerical scale permitted statistical analysis with a precision that is not possible with data based on subjective diagnosis alone: the results of comparing histology with pack-years of cigarette consumption were consistent with the hypothesis that structural recovery occurs in bronchial epithelium in people who stop smoking for over two years.
Smokers weigh less and have less body fat than nonsmokers. Increased body fat and weight gain are observed following smoking cessation. To assess a possible molecular mechanism underlying the inverse association between smoking and body weight, we hypothesized that smoking may induce the expression of a fat depleting gene in the airway epithelium, the cell population that takes the brunt of the stress of cigarette smoke.
To assess if smoking up-regulates expression in the airway epithelium of genes associated with weight loss, microarray analysis was used to evaluate genes associated with fat-depletion in large airway epithelial samples obtained by fiberoptic bronchoscopy from normal smokers and normal nonsmokers. As a candidate gene we further evaluated the expression of alpha2-zinc-glycoprotein1 (AZGP1), a soluble protein that stimulates lipolysis, induces a reduction in body fat in mice, is associated with the cachexia related to cancer, and is known to be expressed in secretory cells of lung epithelium. AZGP1 protein expression was assessed by Western analysis and localization in the large airway epithelium by immunohistochemistry.
Both microarray and TaqMan analysis demonstrated that AZGP1 mRNA levels were higher in the large airway epithelium of normal smokers compared to normal nonsmokers (p<0.05, all comparisons). Western analysis of airway biopsies of smokers compared with non-smokers demonstrated upregulation of AZGP1 at the protein level, and immunohistochemical analysis demonstrated upregulation of AZGP1 in secretory as well as neuroendocrine cells of smokers.
In the context that AZGP1 is involved in lipolysis and fat loss, its overexpression in the airway epithelium of chronic smokers may represent one mechanism for the weight difference in smokers vs nonsmokers.
AZGP1; smoking; weight loss; airway epithelium; gene expression
Prior microarray studies of smokers at high risk for lung cancer have demonstrated that heterogeneity in bronchial airway epithelial cell gene expression response to smoking can serve as an early diagnostic biomarker for lung cancer. As a first step in applying functional genomic analysis to population studies, we have examined the relationship between gene expression variation and genetic variation in a central molecular pathway (NRF2-mediated antioxidant response) associated with smoking exposure and lung cancer. We assessed global gene expression in histologically normal airway epithelial cells obtained at bronchoscopy from smokers who developed lung cancer (SC, n = 20), smokers without lung cancer (SNC, n = 24), and never smokers (NS, n = 8). Functional enrichment analysis showed that the NRF2-mediated, antioxidant response element (ARE)-regulated genes, were significantly lower in SC, when compared with expression levels in SNC. Importantly, we found that the expression of MAFG (a binding partner of NRF2) was correlated with the expression of ARE genes, suggesting MAFG levels may limit target gene induction. Bioinformatically we identified single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in putative ARE genes and to test the impact of genetic variation, we genotyped these putative regulatory SNPs and other tag SNPs in selected NRF2 pathway genes. Sequencing MAFG locus, we identified 30 novel SNPs and two were associated with either gene expression or lung cancer status among smokers. This work demonstrates an analysis approach that integrates bioinformatics pathway and transcription factor binding site analysis with genotype, gene expression and disease status to identify SNPs that may be associated with individual differences in gene expression and/or cancer status in smokers. These polymorphisms might ultimately contribute to lung cancer risk via their effect on the airway gene expression response to tobacco-smoke exposure.
Cigarette smoke disrupts the protective barrier established by the airway epithelium through direct damage to the epithelial cells, leading to cell death. Since the morphology of the airway epithelium of smokers does not typically demonstrate necrosis, the most likely mechanism for epithelial cell death in response to cigarette smoke is apoptosis. We hypothesized that cigarette smoke directly up-regulates expression of apoptotic genes, which could play a role in airway epithelial apoptosis.
Microarray analysis of airway epithelium obtained by bronchoscopy on matched cohorts of 13 phenotypically normal smokers and 9 non-smokers was used to identify specific genes modulated by smoking that were associated with apoptosis. Among the up-regulated apoptotic genes was pirin (3.1-fold, p < 0.002), an iron-binding nuclear protein and transcription cofactor. In vitro studies using human bronchial cells exposed to cigarette smoke extract (CSE) and an adenovirus vector encoding the pirin cDNA (AdPirin) were performed to test the direct effect of cigarette smoke on pirin expression and the effect of pirin expression on apoptosis.
Quantitative TaqMan RT-PCR confirmed a 2-fold increase in pirin expression in the airway epithelium of smokers compared to non-smokers (p < 0.02). CSE applied to primary human bronchial epithelial cell cultures demonstrated that pirin mRNA levels increase in a time-and concentration-dependent manner (p < 0.03, all conditions compared to controls).
Overexpression of pirin, using the vector AdPirin, in human bronchial epithelial cells was associated with an increase in the number of apoptotic cells assessed by both TUNEL assay (5-fold, p < 0.01) and ELISA for cytoplasmic nucleosomes (19.3-fold, p < 0.01) compared to control adenovirus vector.
These observations suggest that up-regulation of pirin may represent one mechanism by which cigarette smoke induces apoptosis in the airway epithelium, an observation that has implications for the pathogenesis of cigarette smoke-induced diseases.
Smoking and inflammation contribute to the pathogenesis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which involves changes in extracellular matrix. This is thought to contribute to airway remodeling and airflow obstruction. We have previously observed that long-term treatment with inhaled corticosteroids can not only reduce bronchial inflammation, but can also attenuate lung function decline in moderate-severe COPD. We hypothesized that inhaled corticosteroids and current smoking modulate bronchial extracellular matrix components in COPD.
To compare major extracellular matrix components (elastic fibers; proteoglycans [versican, decorin]; collagens type I and III) in bronchial biopsies 1) after 30-months inhaled steroids treatment or placebo; and 2) between current and ex-smokers with COPD.
We included 64 moderate-severe, steroid-naive COPD patients (24/40 (ex)-smokers, 62±7 years, 46 (31–54) packyears, post-bronchodilator forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) 62±9% predicted) at baseline in this randomized, controlled trial. 19 and 13 patients received 30-months treatment with fluticasone or placebo, respectively. Bronchial biopsies collected at baseline and after 30 months were studied using (immuno)histochemistry to evaluate extracellular matrix content. Percentage and density of stained area were calculated by digital image analysis.
30-Months inhaled steroids increased the percentage stained area of versican (9.6% [CI 0.9 to 18.3%]; p = 0.03) and collagen III (20.6% [CI 3.8 to 37.4%]; p = 0.02) compared to placebo. Increased collagen I staining density correlated with increased post-bronchodilator FEV1 after inhaled steroids treatment (Rs = 0.45, p = 0.04). There were no differences between smokers and ex-smokers with COPD in percentages and densities for all extracellular matrix proteins.
These data show that long-term inhaled corticosteroids treatment partially changes the composition of extracellular matrix in moderate-severe COPD. This is associated with increased lung function, suggesting that long-term inhaled steroids modulate airway remodeling thereby potentially preventing airway collapse in COPD. Smoking status is not associated with bronchial extracellular matrix proteins.