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Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis. 2011;6:191-8. doi: 10.2147/COPD.S14911. Epub 2011 Mar 10.

Lung injury after cigarette smoking is particle related.

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  • 1Environmental Public Health Division, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, US Environmental Protection Agency, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7315, USA.


The specific component responsible and the mechanistic pathway for increased human morbidity and mortality after cigarette smoking are yet to be delineated. We propose that 1) injury and disease following cigarette smoking are associated with exposure to and retention of particles produced during smoking and 2) the biological effects of particles associated with cigarette smoking share a single mechanism of injury with all particles. Smoking one cigarette exposes the human respiratory tract to between 15,000 and 40,000 μg particulate matter; this is a carbonaceous product of an incomplete combustion. There are numerous human exposures to other particles, and these vary widely in composition, absolute magnitude, and size of the particle. Individuals exposed to all these particles share a common clinical presentation with a loss of pulmonary function, increased bronchial hyperresponsiveness, pathologic changes of emphysema and fibrosis, and comorbidities, including cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, peripheral vascular disease, and cancers. Mechanistically, all particle exposures produce an oxidative stress, which is associated with a series of reactions, including an activation of kinase cascades and transcription factors, release of inflammatory mediators, and apoptosis. If disease associated with cigarette smoking is recognized to be particle related, then certain aspects of the clinical presentation can be predicted; this would include worsening of pulmonary function and progression of pathological changes and comorbidity (eg, emphysema and carcinogenesis) after smoking cessation since the particle is retained in the lung and the exposure continues.


air pollution; oxidants; oxidative stress; particulate matter; smoking

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