Popcorn worker's lung: In vitro exposure to diacetyl, an ingredient in microwave popcorn butter flavoring, increases reactivity to methacholine

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Workers who inhale microwave popcorn butter flavorings experience decrements in lung function and can develop clinical bronchiolitis obliterans, i.e., “popcorn worker's lung” (Kreiss, K., Gomaa, A., Kullman, G., Fedan, K., Simoes, E.J., Enright, P.L., 2002. Clinical bronchiolitis obliterans in workers at a microwave-popcorn plant. N. Engl. J. Med. 347, 330-338.). In a rat inhalation model, vapors of an artificial butter flavoring damaged the epithelium of the upper and lower airways (Hubbs, A.F., Battelli, L.A., Goldsmith, W.T., Porter, D.W., Frazer, D., Friend, S., Schwegler-Berry, D., Mercer, R.R., Reynolds, J.S., Grote, A., Castranova, V., Kullman, G., Fedan, J.S., Dowdy, J., Jones, W.G., 2002. Necrosis of nasal and airway epithelium in rats inhaling vapors of artificial butter flavoring. Toxicol. Appl. Pharmacol. 185, 128-135.). Diacetyl, a butter flavoring component, is a major volatile ketone in the popcorn-processing workplace. We investigated the effects of diacetyl on epithelium of guinea pig isolated airway preparations and the effects of diacetyl in vitro on reactivity to bronchoactive agents. In the isolated, perfused trachea preparation, diacetyl added to the intraluminal (mucosal) bath elicited responses that began with contraction (threshold ca. 3 mM) and ended with relaxation. After a 4-h incubation with intraluminal diacetyl (3 mM), contractions to extraluminal (serosal) methacholine (MCh) were slightly increased; however, sensitivity to intraluminally (mucosally) applied MCh was increased by 10-fold. Relaxation responses of MCh (3 × 10−7 M)-contracted tracheas to extraluminally applied terbutaline and intraluminally applied 120 mM KCl, to evoke epithelium-derived relaxing factor release, were unaffected by diacetyl. Exposure of the tracheal epithelium in Ussing chambers to diacetyl decreased transepithelial potential difference and resistance. These findings suggest that diacetyl exposure compromised epithelial barrier function, leading to hyperreactivity to mucosally applied MCh. The respiratory epithelium appears to serve as an initial target for the toxic effects of diacetyl in the airways.

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