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Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 2010 Nov;43(5):539-45. doi: 10.1165/rcmb.2009-0252OC. Epub 2009 Nov 20.

Ethanol attenuates contraction of primary cultured rat airway smooth muscle cells.

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Department of Internal Medicine, Pulmonary, Critical Care, Sleep, & Allergy Division, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, Nebraska 68198-5910, USA.


Airway smooth muscle cells are the main effector cells involved in airway narrowing and have been used to study the signaling pathways involved in asthma-induced airway constriction. Our previous studies demonstrated that ethanol administration to mice attenuated methacholine-stimulated increases in airway responsiveness. Because ethanol administration attenuates airway responsiveness in mice, we hypothesized that ethanol directly blunts the ability of cultured airway smooth muscle cells to shorten. To test this hypothesis, we measured changes in the size of cultured rat airway smooth muscle (RASM) cells exposed to ethanol (100 mM) after treatment with methacholine. Ethanol markedly attenuated methacholine-stimulated cell shortening (methacholine-stimulated length change = 8.3 ± 1.2% for ethanol versus 43.9 ± 1.5% for control; P < 0.001). Ethanol-induced inhibition of methacholine-stimulated cell shortening was reversible 24 hours after removal of alcohol. To determine if ethanol acts through a cGMP-dependent pathway, incubation with ethanol for as little as 15 minutes produced a doubling of cGMP-dependent protein kinase (PKG) activity. Furthermore, treatment with the PKG antagonist analog Rp-8Br-cGMPS (10 μM) inhibited ethanol-induced kinase activation when compared with control-treated cells. In contrast to the effect of ethanol on PKG, ethanol pretreatment did not activate a cAMP-dependent protein kinase. These data demonstrate that brief ethanol exposure reversibly prevents methacholine-stimulated RASM cell contraction. In addition, it appears that this effect is the result of activation of the cGMP/PKG kinase pathway. These findings implicate a direct effect of ethanol on airway smooth muscle cells as the basis for in vivo ethanol effects.

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