Acrolein is a respiratory irritant that can be generated during cooking and is in environmental tobacco smoke. More plentiful in cigarette smoke than polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), acrolein can adduct tumor suppressor p53 (TP53) DNA and may contribute to TP53-mutations in lung cancer. Acrolein is also generated endogenously at sites of injury, and excessive breath levels (sufficient to activate metalloproteinases and increase mucin transcripts) have been detected in asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Because of its reactivity with respiratory-lining fluid or cellular macromolecules, acrolein alters gene regulation, inflammation, mucociliary transport, and alveolar-capillary barrier integrity. In laboratory animals, acute exposures have lead to acute lung injury and pulmonary edema similar to that produced by smoke inhalation whereas lower concentrations have produced bronchial hyperreactivity, excessive mucus production, and alveolar enlargement. Susceptibility to acrolein exposure is associated with differential regulation of cell surface receptor, transcription factor, and ubiquitin-proteasome genes. Consequent to its pathophysiological impact, acrolein contributes to the morbidly and mortality associated with acute lung injury and COPD, and possibly asthma and lung cancer.
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