Bacterial endotoxin is an active component of cigarette smoke

Chest. 1999 Mar;115(3):829-35. doi: 10.1378/chest.115.3.829.


Background: Chronic bronchitis in cigarette smokers shares many clinical and histologic features with environmental lung diseases attributed to bacterial endotoxin (lipopolysaccharide [LPS]) inhalation. Experimental LPS inhalation mimics many of the acute effects of cigarette smoke in the lower airway. Therefore, we reasoned that LPS may be a biologically active component of cigarette smoke.

Design: The Limulus amebocyte lysate (LAL) assay was used to measure LPS in the tobacco and filter tip components of unsmoked 1R4F experimental cigarettes and commercially available "light" cigarettes, as well as in mainstream (MS) and sidestream (SS) smoke particles generated with an automated smoking machine and collected on ventilator mainflow filters.

Setting and participants: Blood LPS activity and plasma cytokine concentrations were measured in groups of healthy smokers and nonsmokers who reported to the walk-in clinic at the Baltimore VA Medical Center for unrelated complaints.

Measurements: Blood LPS levels were measured by LAL assay and plasma levels of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin 6 (IL-6), soluble TNF receptors I and II (sTNFR I and sTNFR II) were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.

Results: Bioactive LPS was detected in both the tobacco portion (1R4F, 17.8+/-1.0 microg/cigarette; light, 26.8+/-7.3 microg/cigarette [mean+/-SE]) and filter tips (1R4F, 0.67+/-0.55 microg/cigarette; light, 0.70+/-0.39 microg/cigarette) of cigarettes. Bioactive LPS was also detected in both MS (1R4F, 120+/-64 ng/cigarette; light: 45.3+/-16 ng/cigarette) and SS smoke (1R4F, 18+/-1.5 ng/cigarette; light: 75+/-49 ng/cigarette). Although systemic absorption of inhaled LPS may occur, we failed to detect any differences between nonsmokers and smokers in median blood LPS levels (median values, 66.75 and 72.1 pg/mL, respectively; p = 0.55) or plasma concentrations of TNF-alpha (0 vs 0 pg/mL, respectively; p = 0.71), sTNFR I(1,469 vs 1,576 pg/mL, respectively), sTNFR II (2,011 vs 3,110 pg/mL, respectively), or IL-6 (8.8 vs 0 pg/mL, respectively; p = 0.20).

Conclusions: Smoking one pack of cigarettes per day delivers a dose of respirable LPS that is comparable to the levels of LPS associated with adverse health effects in cotton textile workers. Thus, we suggest that the bioactive LPS in cigarette smoke may contribute to the pathogenesis of chronic bronchitis that develops in susceptible cigarette smokers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bronchitis / metabolism*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cytokines / analysis
  • Cytokines / blood
  • Escherichia coli
  • Humans
  • Lipopolysaccharides / analysis*
  • Lipopolysaccharides / blood
  • Nicotiana*
  • Plants, Toxic*
  • Smoke / analysis*


  • Cytokines
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Smoke