Through a variety of biochemical mechanisms, cigarette smoke (CS) may damage airway epithelium, altering its normal structure and function. Injury to epithelium may include changes in tight junction (TJ) integrity with impairment of epithelial barrier function.
Methods and results:
To study the effect of the exposure to CS condensate (CSC) on TJ integrity, two human bronchial epithelial cell lines (HBECs), BEAS-2B and 16HBE14o-, were used. Exposure of the two HBECs to CSC resulted in a time-dependent and concentration-dependent disassembly of TJs, which were already detectable at 24 h at all the CSC concentrations tested (5%, 10%, and 20%), associated with changes in cell shape, suggesting cell damage. However, a significant inhibition of cell growth and an increase in DNA fragmentation were detected only at the highest CSC concentration tested (20%) at 48 and 72 h, respectively. The involvement of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)-extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) 1/2 cascade in CSC-induced damage was shown by the observation that exposure to CSC (5%) induced a marked phosphorylation of ERK1/2, already detectable after 5-min incubation and confirmed by the demonstration that not only ERK1/2 phosphorylation but also CSC-induced TJ disassembly and DNA fragmentation were partially inhibited by a mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase inhibitor (U0126) and completely blocked by a EGFR inhibitor (AG1478).
CSC-induced damage to airway epithelium includes disassembly of TJs, modulated through the EGFR-ERK1/2 signaling pathway.