Nitrogen mustard is a vesicant that causes damage to the respiratory tract. In these studies, we characterized the acute effects of nitrogen mustard on lung structure, inflammatory mediator expression, and pulmonary function, with the goal of identifying mediators potentially involved in toxicity. Treatment of rats (male Wistar, 200-225 g) with nitrogen mustard (mechlorethamine hydrochloride, i.t., 0.25mg/kg) resulted in marked histological changes in the respiratory tract, including necrotizing bronchiolitis, thickening of alveolar septa, and inflammation which was evident within 24h. This was associated with increases in bronchoalveolar lavage protein and cells, confirming injury to alveolar epithelial regions of the lung. Nitrogen mustard administration also resulted in increased expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase and cyclooxygenase-2, pro-inflammatory proteins implicated in lung injury, in alveolar macrophages and alveolar and bronchial epithelial cells. Expression of connective tissue growth factor and matrix metalloproteinase-9, mediators regulating extracellular matrix turnover was also increased, suggesting that pathways leading to chronic lung disease are initiated early in the pathogenic process. Following nitrogen mustard exposure, alterations in lung mechanics and function were also observed. These included decreases in baseline static compliance, end-tidal volume and airway resistance, and a pronounced loss of methacholine responsiveness in resistance, tissue damping and elastance. Taken together, these data demonstrate that nitrogen mustard induces rapid structural and inflammatory changes in the lung which are associated with altered lung functioning. Understanding the nature of the injury induced by nitrogen mustard and related analogs may aid in the development of efficacious therapies for treatment of pulmonary injury resulting from exposure to vesicants.
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