Transcriptional profiling of lung macrophages during pulmonary injury induced by nitrogen mustard

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2020 Nov;1480(1):146-154. doi: 10.1111/nyas.14444. Epub 2020 Aug 6.


Nitrogen mustard (NM) and sulfur mustard are cytotoxic alkylating agents that cause severe and progressive damage to the respiratory tract. Evidence indicates that macrophages play a key role in the acute inflammatory phase and the later resolution/profibrotic phase of the pathogenic response. These diverse roles are mediated by inflammatory macrophages broadly classified as M1 proinflammatory and M2 anti-inflammatory that sequentially accumulate in the lung in response to injury. The goal of the present study was to identify signaling mechanisms contributing to macrophage activation in response to mustards. To accomplish this, we used RNA sequencing to analyze the gene expression profiles of lung macrophages isolated 1 and 28 days after intratracheal exposure of rats to NM (0.125 mg/kg) or phosphate-buffered saline control. We identified 641 and 792 differentially expressed genes 1 and 28 days post-NM exposure, respectively. These genes are primarily involved in processes related to cell movement and are regulated by cytokines, including tumor necrosis factor-α, interferon-γ, and interleukin-1β. Some of the most significantly enriched canonical pathways included STAT3 and NF-κB signaling. These cytokines and pathways may represent potential targets for therapeutic intervention to mitigate mustard-induced lung toxicity.

Keywords: RNA-seq; macrophages; pulmonary fibrosis; sulfur mustard; vesicants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chemical Warfare Agents / poisoning*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects*
  • Inflammation / chemically induced
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Lung Injury / chemically induced
  • Lung Injury / metabolism*
  • Lung Injury / pathology
  • Macrophages, Alveolar / metabolism*
  • Macrophages, Alveolar / pathology
  • Male
  • Mechlorethamine / poisoning*
  • RNA-Seq*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar


  • Chemical Warfare Agents
  • Mechlorethamine