Ethanol stimulates apparent nitric oxide-dependent ciliary beat frequency in bovine airway epithelial cells

J. H. Sisson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


The mucociliary apparatus of the lung provides an important host-defense function by clearing the upper airway of inhaled particles and infectious microorganisms. Because lung host defenses are impaired in alcoholics, we hypothesized that ethanol would decrease ciliary motility in airway epithelium. Ciliary beat frequency (CBF) was measured by videomicroscopy in primary cultures of ciliated bovine bronchial epithelial cells (BBECs). Ethanol rapidly stimulated ciliary motility in a time-dependent fashion with concentrations as low as 10 mM. No detectable decreases in ciliary motility were noted until ethanol concentrations exceeded 1,000 mM. Because many substances stimulate ciliary motility by releasing nitric oxide (NO) via upregulation of nitric oxide synthase (NOS), we preincubated ciliated BBECs with a stereospecific NOS inhibitor, N(G)-monomethyl-L-arginine (L-NMMA). L- NMMA completely blocked ethanol-induced stimulation of CBF, which could be subsequently restored by adding either L-arginine or sodium nitroprusside, which is a direct NO donor. These results indicate that ethanol, at clinically relevant concentrations, stimulates the release of NO by airway epithelium that upregulates ciliary motility. The rapidity of this response suggests upregulation of the constitutive NOS, known to be present in airway epithelium, and may explain the increases in mucociliary clearance observed in previous studies of ethanol ingestion in animals and in humans. These data also suggest a novel signal transduction pathway, the NO/NOS system, by which ethanol may exert some of its diverse biologic effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)L596-L600
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology
Issue number4 12-4
StatePublished - 1995


  • airway epithelium
  • ciliary motility
  • mucociliary clearance
  • nitric oxide
  • nitric oxide synthase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Cell Biology


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