Paradoxical effects of cigarette smoke and COPD on SARS-CoV-2 infection and disease

M. Tomchaney, M. Contoli, J. Mayo, S. Baraldo, S. Li, C. R. Cabel, D. A. Bull, S. Lick, J. Malo, S. Knoper, S. S. Kim, J. Tram, J. Rojas-Quintero, M. Kraft, J. G. Ledford, Y. Tesfaigzi, F. D. Martinez, C. A. Thorne, F. Kheradmand, S. K. CamposA. Papi, F. Polverino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: How cigarette smoke (CS) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affect severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2) infection and severity is controversial. We investigated the effects of COPD and CS on the expression of SARS-CoV-2 entry receptor ACE2 in vivo in COPD patients and controls and in CS-exposed mice, and the effects of CS on SARS-CoV-2 infection in human bronchial epithelial cells in vitro. Methods: We quantified: (1) pulmonary ACE2 protein levels by immunostaining and ELISA, and both ACE2 and/or TMPRSS2 mRNA levels by RT-qPCR in two independent human cohorts; and (2) pulmonary ACE2 protein levels by immunostaining and ELISA in C57BL/6 WT mice exposed to air or CS for up to 6 months. The effects of CS exposure on SARS-CoV-2 infection were evaluated after in vitro infection of Calu-3 cells and differentiated human bronchial epithelial cells (HBECs), respectively. Results: ACE2 protein and mRNA levels were decreased in peripheral airways from COPD patients versus controls but similar in central airways. Mice exposed to CS had decreased ACE2 protein levels in their bronchial and alveolar epithelia versus air-exposed mice. CS treatment decreased viral replication in Calu-3 cells, as determined by immunofluorescence staining for replicative double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) and western blot for viral N protein. Acute CS exposure decreased in vitro SARS-CoV-2 replication in HBECs, as determined by plaque assay and RT-qPCR. Conclusions: ACE2 levels were decreased in both bronchial and alveolar epithelial cells from COPD patients versus controls, and from CS-exposed versus air-exposed mice. CS-pre-exposure potently inhibited SARS-CoV-2 replication in vitro. These findings urge to investigate further the controversial effects of CS and COPD on SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number275
JournalBMC Pulmonary Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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