Tobacco smoking predisposes the development of diseases characterized by chronic inflammation and T cell dysfunction. In this study, we aimed to determine the direct effects of cigarette smoke on primary T cells and to identify the corresponding molecular mediators. Activated T cells cultured in the presence of cigarette smoke extract (CSE) displayed a dose-dependent decrease in cell proliferation, which associated with the induction of cellular apoptosis. T cell apoptosis by CSE was independent of caspases and mediated through reactive oxygen and nitrogen species endogenously contained within CSE. Additional results showed that exposure of T cells to CSE induced phosphorylation of the stress mediator eukaryotic-translation-initiation-factor 2 alpha (eIF2α). Inhibition of the phosphorylation of eIF2α in T cells prevented the cellular apoptosis induced by CSE. Altogether, the results show the direct effects of CSE on T cells, which advance in the understanding of how cigarette smoking promotes chronic inflammation and immune dysfunction.
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