Cigarette smoke inhibits engulfment of apoptotic cells by macrophages through inhibition of actin rearrangement

Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 2011 Apr;44(4):474-82. doi: 10.1165/rcmb.2009-0463OC. Epub 2010 Jun 4.


Exposure to cigarette smoke (CS) was shown to impair the capacity of macrophages to clear bacteria and apoptotic cells. Here, we show that both the exposure of macrophages to cigarette smoke extract (CSE) in vitro and an acute single exposure to CS in vivo impair the macrophage clearance of apoptotic polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs). Upon longer periods of exposure to smoke in vivo (4-12 weeks), the impaired capacity of macrophages to clear apoptotic cells persisted after the cessation of smoking, with slow recovery to normality observed 4 weeks later. With respect to the mechanism by which CS impairs the macrophage uptake of apoptotic PMNs, we did not detect altered surface expression of receptors associated with apoptotic cell clearance. We did observe the impaired phosphorylation of the guanine nucleotide exchange factor Vav1 and the downstream inhibition of Ras-related C3 botulinum toxin substrate 1 (Rac1) activation. Consistent with these findings, CS impaired the macrophage cytoskeletal changes observed after stimulation with apoptotic cells. A loss of actin occurred at the leading edge, manifested as impaired ruffling of the cell membrane and a decreased capacity to engulf apoptotic cells. The inability to clear PMNs would lead to a greater release of destructive PMN products, and would diminish the reparative phenotype induced by the macrophage clearance of apoptotic cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actins / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Cell Movement
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Macrophages / cytology*
  • Macrophages / enzymology
  • Macrophages / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Monocytes / cytology
  • Neutrophils / cytology
  • Phagocytosis*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-vav / metabolism
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / cytology
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Time Factors
  • rac1 GTP-Binding Protein / metabolism


  • Actins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-vav
  • Vav1 protein, mouse
  • rac1 GTP-Binding Protein