Phospholipid fatty acid remodeling and carbonylated protein increase in extracellular vesicles released by airway epithelial cells exposed to cigarette smoke extract

Eur J Cell Biol. 2023 Mar;102(1):151285. doi: 10.1016/j.ejcb.2022.151285. Epub 2022 Dec 26.


Cigarette smoke (CS) represents one of the most relevant environmental risk factors for several chronic pathologies. Tissue damage caused by CS exposure is mediated, at least in part, by oxidative stress induced by its toxic and pro-oxidant components. Evidence demonstrates that extracellular vesicles (EVs) released by various cell types exposed to CS extract (CSE) are characterized by altered biochemical cargo and gained pathological properties. In the present study, we evaluated the content of oxidized proteins and phospholipid fatty acid profiles of EVs released by human bronchial epithelial BEAS-2B cells treated with CSE. This specific molecular characterization has hitherto not been performed. After confirmation that CSE reduces viability of BEAS-2B cells and elevates intracellular ROS levels, in a dose-dependent manner, we demonstrated that 24 h exposure at 1% CSE, a concentration that only slight modifies cell viability but increases ROS levels, was able to increase carbonylated protein levels in cells and released EVs. The release of oxidatively modified proteins via EVs might represent a mechanism used by cells to remove toxic proteins in order to avoid their intracellular overloading. Moreover, 1% CSE induced only few changes in the fatty acid asset in BEAS-2B cell membrane phospholipids, whereas several rearrangements were observed in EVs released by CSE-treated cells. The impact of changes in acyl chain composition of CSE-EVs accounted for the increased saturation levels of phospholipids, a membrane parameter that might influence EV stability, uptake and, at least in part, EV-mediated biological effects. The present in vitro study adds new information concerning the biochemical composition of CSE-related EVs, useful to predict their biological effects on target cells. Furthermore, the information regarding the presence of oxidized proteins and the specific membrane features of CSE-related EVs can be useful to define the utilization of circulating EVs as marker for diagnosing of CS-induced lung damage and/or CS-related diseases.

Keywords: Airway epithelial cells; Cigarette smoke extract; Extracellular Vesicles; Phospholipid fatty acids; Protein carbonylation; Trans fatty acid isomers.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Cigarette Smoking* / adverse effects
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Extracellular Vesicles* / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Phospholipids / metabolism
  • Phospholipids / pharmacology
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Tobacco / adverse effects


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Proteins
  • Phospholipids
  • Fatty Acids