Sex Differences in Airway Remodeling in a Mouse Model of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2016 Apr 15;193(8):825-34. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201503-0487OC.


Rationale: After adjustment for the amount of smoking, women have a 50% increased risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) compared with men. The anatomic basis and/or mechanism(s) of these sex-related differences in COPD are unknown.

Objectives: To characterize the impact of female sex hormones on chronic cigarette smoke-induced airway remodeling and emphysema in a mouse model of COPD.

Methods: Airway remodeling and emphysema were determined morphometrically in male, female, and ovariectomized mice exposed to 6 months of cigarette smoke. Antioxidant- and transforming growth factor (TGF)-β-related genes were profiled in airway tissues. The selective estrogen receptor modulator tamoxifen was also administered during smoke exposure in a short-term model. Airway wall thickness of male and female human smokers at risk of or with mild COPD was measured using optical coherence tomography.

Measurements and main results: Small airway wall remodeling was increased in female but not male or ovariectomized mice and was associated with increased distal airway resistance, down-regulation of antioxidant genes, increased oxidative stress, and activation of TGF-β1. These effects were prevented by ovariectomy. Use of tamoxifen as a therapeutic intervention mitigated smoke-induced increase in oxidative stress in female mice. Compared with male human smokers, female human smokers had significantly thicker airway walls.

Conclusions: The excess risk of small airway disease in female mice after chronic smoke exposure was associated with increased oxidative stress and TGF-β1 signaling and also was related to the effects of female sex hormones. Estrogen receptor antagonism might be of value in reducing oxidative stress in female smokers.

Keywords: cigarette smoke; emphysema; estrogen; oxidative stress; small airway remodeling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Airway Remodeling / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Lung / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology*
  • Sex Factors