Compartmentalization of anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory gene expression in current and former smokers with COPD

Respir Res. 2019 Aug 20;20(1):190. doi: 10.1186/s12931-019-1164-1.


Background: Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have high oxidative stress associated with the severity of the disease. Nuclear factor erythroid-2 related factor 2 (Nrf2)-directed stress response plays a critical role in the protection of lung cells to oxidative stress by upregulating antioxidant genes in response to tobacco smoke. There is a critical gap in our knowledge about Nrf-2 regulated genes in active smokers and former-smokers with COPD in different cell types from of lungs and surrogate peripheral tissues.

Methods: We compared the expression of Nrf2 and six of its target genes in alveolar macrophages, nasal, and bronchial epithelium and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) in current and former smokers with COPD. We compared cell-type specific of Nrf2 and its target genes as well as markers of oxidative and inflammatory stress.

Results: We enrolled 89 patients; expression all Nrf2 target gene measured were significantly higher in the bronchial epithelium from smokers compared to non-smokers. None were elevated in alveolar macrophages and only one was elevated in each of the other compartments.

Conclusion: Bronchial epithelium is the most responsive tissue for transcriptional activation of Nrf2 target genes in active smokers compared to former-smokers with COPD that correlated with oxidative stress and inflammatory markers. There were no consistent trends in gene expression in other cell types tested.

Trial registration: : NCT01335971.

Keywords: COPD; Epithelial cells; Macrophages; Nrf2; Oxidative stress; Smokers.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase II
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Antioxidants / metabolism*
  • Bronchi / metabolism
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Epithelium / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gene Expression*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / genetics*
  • Inflammation / metabolism*
  • Isothiocyanates / therapeutic use
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Monocytes / metabolism
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / biosynthesis
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / genetics
  • Oxidative Stress / genetics
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / genetics*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / metabolism*
  • Smoking / genetics*
  • Smoking / metabolism*
  • Smoking Cessation
  • Sulfoxides
  • Transcriptional Activation


  • Antioxidants
  • Isothiocyanates
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • NFE2L2 protein, human
  • Sulfoxides
  • sulforaphane

Associated data