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Inhal Toxicol. 2014 Feb;26(3):166-74. doi: 10.3109/08958378.2013.872211. Epub 2014 Jan 24.

Bisulfite and sulfite as derivatives of sulfur dioxide alters biomechanical behaviors of airway smooth muscle cells in culture.

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  • 1Key Laboratory of Biorheological Science and Technology, Ministry of Education, Bioengineering College, Chongqing University , Chongqing , China .


Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a common air pollutant that triggers asthmatic symptoms, but its toxicological mechanisms are not fully understood. Specifically, it is unclear how SO2 in vivo affects airway smooth muscle (ASM) cells of which the mechanics is known to ultimately mediate airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR) - a hallmark feature of asthma. To this end, we investigated the effects of bisulfite/sulfite (1:3 M/M in neutral fluid to simulate the in vivo derivatives of inhaled SO2 in the airways), on the viability, migration, stiffness and contractility of ASM cells cultured in vitro. The results showed that bisulfite/sulfite consistently increased viability, migration, F-actin intensity and stiffness of ASM cells in similar fashion as concentration increasing from 10(-4) to 10(-1) mmol/L. However, bisulfite/sulfite increased the ASM cell contractility induced by KCl only at the concentration between 10(-4) and 10(-3) mmol/L (p < 0.05), while having no consistent effect on that induced by histamine. At the concentration of 10(0) mmol/L, bisulfite/sulfite became acutely toxic to the ASM cells. Taken together, the data suggest that SO2 derivatives at low levels in vivo may directly increase the mass, stiffness and contractility of ASM cells, which may help understand the mechanism in which specific air pollutants contribute in vivo to the pathogenesis of asthma.

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