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Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2013 Sep 15;305(6):L432-8. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00116.2013. Epub 2013 Jul 5.

DNA methylation in nasal epithelial cells from smokers: identification of ULBP3-related effects.

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Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma, and Lung Biology, Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 104 Mason Farm Rd; CB# 7310, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7310.


We previously demonstrated that, in nasal epithelial cells (NECs) from smokers, methylation of an antiviral gene was associated with impaired antiviral defense responses. To expand these findings and better understand biological mechanisms underlying cigarette smoke (CS)-induced modifications of host defense responses, we aimed to compare DNA methylation of genes that may play a role in antiviral response. We used a two-tiered analytical approach, where we first implemented a genome-wide strategy. NECs from smokers differed in the methylation levels of 390 genes, the majority (84%) of which showed decreased methylation in smokers. Secondly, we generated an a priori set of 161 antiviral response-related genes, of which five were differentially methylated in NEC from smokers (CCL2, FDPS, GSK3B, SOCS3, and ULBP3). Assessing these genes at the systems biology level revealed a protein interaction network associated with CS-induced epigenetic modifications involving SOCS3 and ULBP3 signaling, among others. Subsequent confirmation studies focused on SOCS3 and ULBP3, which were hypomethylated and hypermethylated, respectively. Expression of SOCS3 was increased, whereas ULBP3 expression was decreased in NECs from smokers. Addition of the demethylating agent 5-Aza-2-deoxycytidine enhanced ULBP3 expression in NECs from smokers. Furthermore, infection of differentiated NECs with influenza virus resulted in significantly lower levels of ULBP3 in cells from smokers. Taken together, our findings show that genomic DNA methylation profiles are altered in NECs from smokers and that these changes are associated with decreased antiviral host defense responses, indicating that epigenenic dysregulation of genes such as SOCS3 and ULBP3 likely impacts immune responses in the epithelium.


antiviral defense response; cigarette smoke; epigenetic; influenza

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