We have investigated alterations of microRNA expression profiles in the apparently healthy lung of mice and rats as an early response to exposure to cigarette smoke, either mainstream (MCS) or environmental, and/or to treatment with chemopreventive agents. Further on, we evaluated microRNA alterations at a later stage, when lung tumors were detectable in MCS-exposed mice. Lung samples were available from previous studies, in which strain H mice had been exposed to MCS for 4 months, starting immediately after birth, and then kept in filtered air for an additional 3 months. Some samples were from MCS-exposed mice treated either with N-acetyl-l-cysteine during pregnancy or with phenethyl isothiocyanate after weaning. The analysis of 576 mouse microRNAs showed that MCS strongly dysregulated microRNA expression and that both chemopreventive agents efficiently attenuated this trend, especially in noncancer tissue. MicroRNA expression was affected by histopathology, with specific signatures related to occurrence of pneumonia, adenoma, or bronchoalveolar carcinoma. Within pairs of samples from individual mice, microRNA analysis discriminated adenomatous tissue and especially carcinomatous tissue from the surrounding normal appearing tissue. A series of microRNA alterations characterized the sequential stages of pulmonary carcinogenesis. The involved functions included oncogene activation, inhibition of oncosuppressor genes, recruitment of undifferentiated stem cells, inflammation, inhibition of gap-junctional intercellular communications, angiogenesis, invasiveness, and metastatization. Thus, microRNA expression profiles in lung are dysregulated by MCS along all steps of the carcinogenesis process and depend on the interplay among exposure to noxious agents, treatment with dietary and pharmacological agents, and occurrence of pulmonary diseases.
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