The effect of diesel emission exposure on primary human bronchial epithelial cells from a COPD cohort: N-acetylcysteine as a potential protective intervention

A. Vaughan, S. Stevanovic, M. Jafari, M. Rahman, R.V. Bowman, K.M. Fong, Z. Ristovski, I.A. Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) will be the third leading cause of death world-wide by 2020. Prolonged exposure to particulate matter is associated with COPD progression and mortality. Diesel emissions are a major contributor to particulate matter pollution. In this study we test a therapeutic antioxidant, N-acetylcysteine (NAC), for its ability to protect bronchial epithelial cells (pHBECs) from patients with COPD from adverse effects of diesel emission exposure. Methods: pHBECs from patients with or without COPD were cultured at air-liquid interface (ALI). Cells were exposed to diesel emissions for 30 min with or without 3-h post-exposure treatment with 5 mM N-acetylcysteine (NAC). Filtered laboratory air was tested as a negative control. Cell responses (cell viability, inflammation and oxidative stress) and gene expression profiles for intracellular and immune signaling were assessed. Results: Diesel emissions exposure increased IL-8 secretion and production, antioxidant production, and cytochrome P450 1a1 (CYP1a1) mRNA expression and suppressed superoxide dismutase-1 (SOD1) mRNA expression in bronchial epithelial cells from COPD patients. Treatment with N-acetyl cysteine attenuated the suppression of SOD1. Nanostring gene expression profiling of the filtered air controls showed COPD epithelial cells have increased expression of MHC class II and an interferon signaling profile. Conclusions: This study indicates that bronchial epithelial cells from COPD patients may be vulnerable to diesel emission exposure due to reduced antioxidant capacity, and elevated CYP1a1 mRNA expression. NAC did not appear to offer protection. Future research will be needed to explore other means of recovering oxidant capacity in COPD airways.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)194-202
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Research
Early online date18 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes



  • Antioxidant
  • COPD
  • Diesel emissions
  • Inflammation
  • Oxidative stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)

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