Smoke exposure exacerbates an ethanol-induced defect in mucociliary clearance of Streptococcus pneumoniae

Elizabeth A. Vander Top, Todd A. Wyatt, Martha J. Gentry-Nielsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Background: Alcoholics and smokers are particularly susceptible to pulmonary infections caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, the pneumococcus. Infection begins when pneumococci colonizing the nasopharynx are aspirated into the lower respiratory tract. The major host defense against this movement is the mucociliary clearance apparatus. Both cigarette smoke and ethanol (EtOH) exposure alter ciliary beating and protein kinase activity in the respiratory mucosa in vitro, but their effects on bacterial clearance in the intact animal have not been determined. Methods: Male Sprague Dawley rats were exposed twice daily for 12 weeks to either the smoke generated from 30 cigarettes (smoke-exposed) or room air (sham-exposed). For the last five weeks of smoke exposure, the rats were fed Lieber-DeCarli liquid diets containing 0%, 16%, 26%, or 36% EtOH calories. The rats then were infected intranasally with S. pneumoniae, and movement of the organisms into the lower respiratory tract was quantified by plate counts of the tracheas and lungs 4 hr later. Ciliary beat frequency (CBF) analysis was performed on tracheal ring explants from each animal before and after stimulation with the β-agonist isoproterenol, and tracheal epithelial cell protein kinase C (PKC) activity was measured. Results: Ingestion of any of the EtOH-containing diets resulted in a dose-dependent increase in movement of S. pneumoniae into the rats' lungs. This EtOH-induced defect was augmented further by concurrent smoke exposure, although smoke exposure alone had little effect on S. pneumoniae movement. Smoke, but not EtOH exposure, activated tracheal epithelial cell PKC. Increased movement of organisms into lungs correlated with a decrease in CBF and loss of the ciliary response to isoproterenol. Conclusion: EtOH ingestion in our model facilitated movement of S. pneumoniae into rats' lungs, a phenomenon exacerbated by concurrent smoke exposure. Furthermore, the organism's movement into the lungs correlated with a blunting of the rats' ciliary response to an established stimulus. Defects in mucociliary clearance thus may be one cause of the increased risk of pneumococcal infections in people who abuse alcohol, particularly if they also smoke.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)882-887
Number of pages6
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Cilia
  • Ethanol
  • Smoking
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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