Smoking-associated disordering of the airway basal stem/progenitor cell metabotype
The airway epithelium is a complex pseudostratified multicellular layer lining the tracheobronchial tree, functioning as the primary defense against inhaled environmental contaminants. The major cell types of the airway epithelium include basal, intermediate columnar, ciliated, and secretory. Basal cells (BCs) are the proliferating stem/progenitor population that differentiate into the other specialized cell types of the airway epithelium during normal turnover and repair. Given that cigarette smoke delivers thousands of xenobiotics and high levels of reactive molecules to the lung epithelial surface, we hypothesized that cigarette smoke broadly perturbs BC metabolism. To test this hypothesis, primary airway BCs were isolated from healthy nonsmokers (n = 11) and healthy smokers (n = 7) and assessed by global metabolic profiling by liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. The analysis identified 52 significant metabolites in BCs differentially expressed between smokers and nonsmokers (P < 0.05). These changes included metabolites associated with redox pathways, energy production, and inflammatory processes. Notably, BCs from smokers exhibited altered levels of the key enzyme cofactors/substrates nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, flavin adenine dinucleotide, acetyl coenzyme A, and membrane phospholipid levels. Consistent with the high burden of oxidants in cigarette smoke, glutathione levels were diminished, whereas 3-nitrotyrosine levels were increased, suggesting that protection of airway epithelial cells against oxidative and nitrosative stress is significantly compromised in smoker BCs. It is likely that this altered metabotype is a reflection of, and likely contributes to, the disordered biology of airway BCs consequent to the stress cigarette smoking puts on the airway epithelium.