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Type: Journal article
Title: Airway epithelial cells exposed to wildfire smoke extract exhibit dysregulated autophagy and barrier dysfunction consistent with COPD
Author: Roscioli, E.
Hamon, R.
Lester, S.
Jersmann, H.
Reynolds, P.
Hodge, S.
Citation: Respiratory Research, 2018; 19(1):234-1-234-13
Publisher: BioMed Central
Issue Date: 2018
ISSN: 1465-9921
Statement of
Eugene Roscioli, Rhys Hamon, Susan E. Lester, Hubertus P.A. Jersmann, Paul N. Reynolds and Sandra Hodge
Abstract: Background: Individuals with respiratory disease are being increasingly exposed to wildfire smoke as populations encroach further into forested regions and climate change continues to bring higher temperatures with lower rainfall. Frequent exposures have significant potential to accelerate conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which is characterised by an exaggerated inflammatory response to environmental stimuli. Here we employ models of human airway epithelium exposed to wildfire smoke-extract (WFSE) to examine modulation in airway epithelial cell (AEC) survival, fragility and barrier function. Methods: Submerged cultures of small airway epithelial cells (SAEC) and differentiated air-liquid interface (ALI) cultures of primary bronchial AEC (bAEC) were treated for 1-24 h with 1-10% WFSE generated from plant species found in the Australian bushland. Autophagy (LC3-II and Sequestosome), apoptosis (Poly-(ADP)-Ribose Polymerase (PARP) cleavage) and tight junction proteins were measured using western blot. Barrier function was assessed via permeability of fluorescein tracers and measuring trans-epithelial electrical resistance. The production of IL-6 was assessed using ELISA. Results: Primary epithelial models exposed to WFSE exhibited a significant blockade in autophagy as evidenced by an increase in LC3-II coupled with a concomitant elevation in Sequestosome abundance. These exposures also induced significant PARP cleavage indicative of apoptotic changes. ALI cultures of bAEC treated with 5% WFSE demonstrated barrier dysfunction with significant increases in paracellular molecular permeability and ionic conductance, and a reduction in the abundance of the tight junction proteins ZO-1 and Claudin-1. These cultures also exhibited increased IL-6 secretion consistent with the aberrant and pro-inflammatory repair response observed in the COPD airways. Further, blocks in autophagy and barrier disruption were significantly elevated in response to WFSE in comparison to similar exposures with cigarette smoke-extract. Conclusion: WFSE inhibits autophagic flux and induces barrier dysfunction in the airway epithelium. As autophagy is a central regulator of cellular repair, viability, and inflammation, targeting the block in autophagic flux may ameliorate the consequences of wildfire smoke-exposure for individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions.
Keywords: Airway epithelium; barrier function; cigarette smoke; COPD; environmental health; exacerbation; wildfire
Rights: © The Author(s). 2018 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
DOI: 10.1186/s12931-018-0945-2
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