Effects of conventional tobacco smoke and nicotine-free cigarette smoke on airway inflammation, airway remodelling and lung function in a triple allergen model of severe asthma

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Patients with asthma who smoke have reduced lung function, increased exacerbation rates and increased steroid resistance compared to non-smoking asthmatics. In mice, cigarette smoke has been reported to have both pro- and anti-Th2 response effects.


We hypothesized that combining tobacco cigarette smoke (tCS) with allergen exposure increases inflammation, airway remodelling and lung function in mice. To test this hypothesis, we combined a severe triple allergen model with tCS exposure and investigated whether effects were due to Toll-like receptor 4 signalling and/or nicotine and also observed when nicotine-free cigarettes were used.


Mice were sensitized with ovalbumin, cockroach and house dust mite allergen in alum followed by intratracheal challenges with allergen twice a week for 6 weeks or additionally exposed to tCS during the allergen challenge period. Nicotine or nicotine-free herbal cigarette smoke was also applied to allergen challenged mice.


tCS significantly reduced eosinophil numbers, IL-4 and IL-5 concentrations in the lung, total and allergen-specific IgE in serum, improved lung function and reduced collagen I levels. With the exception of collagen I all parameters reduced by tobacco cigarette smoke were also reduced in Toll-like receptor 4-deficient mice. Nicotine-free cigarette smoke also had significant anti-inflammatory effects on eosinophils, IL-4 and IL-5 concentrations in the lung and reduced airway hyperreactivity, albeit weaker than tobacco smoke. Applying nicotine alone also reduced Th2 cytokine levels and eosinophil numbers in the airways.


Our experiments show that tCS exposure reduces allergen-induced Th2 response in the lung and associated collagen I production and development of airway hyperreactivity. With the exception on collagen I formation, these effects were not dependent on Toll-like receptor 4. The observed anti-Th2 effects of both nicotine and nicotine-free herbal cigarette smoke together suggests that tCS reduces the Th2 responses through nicotine and other products released by burning tobacco.

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