Cigarette smoking and inflammation: cellular and molecular mechanisms

J Dent Res. 2012 Feb;91(2):142-9. doi: 10.1177/0022034511421200. Epub 2011 Aug 29.


Cigarette smoke (CS) causes considerable morbidity and mortality by inducing cancer, chronic lung and vascular diseases, and oral disease. Despite the well-recognized risks associated with smoking, the habit remains unacceptably prevalent. Several toxins present in CS have immunomodulatory effects. CS also contains trace amounts of microbial cell components, including bacterial lipopolysaccharide. These and other CS constituents induce chronic inflammation at mucosal surfaces and modify host responses to exogenous antigens. The effects of CS on immunity are far-reaching and complex; both pro-inflammatory and suppressive effects may be induced. The net effect of CS on immunity depends on many variables, including the dose and type of tobacco, the route and chronicity of exposure, and the presence of other factors at the time of immune cell stimulation, such as Toll receptor ligands or other inflammatory mediators. CS impairs innate defenses against pathogens, modulates antigen presentation, and promotes autoimmunity. CS also impairs immunity in the oral cavity and promotes gingival and periodontal disease and oral cancer. The recognition of specific mechanisms by which CS affects host immunity is an important step toward elucidating mechanisms of tobacco-induced disease and may identify novel therapeutic approaches for the management of diseases that afflict smokers.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antigen Presentation / immunology
  • Autoimmunity / immunology
  • Complex Mixtures / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Mucosal / immunology
  • Immunologic Factors / immunology
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / immunology
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Inflammation Mediators / immunology
  • Mouth Diseases / immunology
  • Mouth Neoplasms / immunology
  • Periodontal Diseases / immunology
  • Smoking / immunology*
  • Toxins, Biological / immunology


  • Complex Mixtures
  • Immunologic Factors
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Toxins, Biological