Lectins are innate immune defense proteins that recognize bacterial cell wall components. Based on the knowledge that cigarette smoking is associated with an increased risk of infections, we hypothesized that cigarette smoking may modulate the expression of lectin genes in airway epithelium. Affymetrix microarrays were used to survey the expression of lectin genes in large airway epithelium from nine nonsmokers and 20 healthy smokers and in small airway epithelium from 13 nonsmokers and 20 healthy smokers. There were no changes (>2-fold change; p < 0.05) in lectin gene expression among healthy smokers compared with nonsmokers except for down-regulation of intelectin 1, a lectin that binds to galactofuranosyl residues in bacterial cell walls (large airway epithelium, p < 0.01; small airway epithelium, p < 0.01). This was confirmed by TaqMan RT-PCR in both large (p < 0.05) and small airway epithelium (p < 0.02). Immunohistochemistry assessment of airway biopsies demonstrated that intelectin 1 was expressed in secretory cells, while Western analysis confirmed the decreased expression of intelectin 1 in airway epithelium of healthy smokers compared with healthy nonsmokers (p < 0.02). Finally, compared with healthy nonsmokers, intelectin 1 expression was also decreased in small airway epithelium of smokers with lone emphysema and normal spirometry (n = 13, p < 0.01) and smokers with established chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (n = 14, p < 0.01). In the context that intelectin 1 plays a role in defense against bacteria, its down-regulation in response to cigarette smoking is another example of the immunomodulatory effects of smoking on the immune system and may contribute to the increase in susceptibility to infections observed in smokers.
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