Electronic cigarette (e-cig) vaping is increasing rapidly in the United States, as e-cigs are considered less harmful than combustible cigarettes. However, limited research has been conducted to understand the possible mechanism that mediate, toxicity and pulmonary health effects of e-cigs. We hypothesized that sub-chronic e-cig exposure induces inflammatory response and dysregulated repair/extracellular matrix (ECM) remodeling, which occur through the α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR α7). Adult wild-type (WT), nAChRα7 knockout (KO), and lung epithelial cell-specific KO (nAChRα7 CreCC10) mice were exposed to e-cig aerosol containing propylene glycol (PG) with or without nicotine. Bronchoalveolar lavage fluids (BALF) and lungs tissues were collected to determine e-cig induced inflammatory response and ECM remodeling, respectively. Sub-chronic e-cig exposure with nicotine increased the inflammatory cellular influx of macrophages and T-lymphocytes including increased pro-inflammatory cytokines in BALF and increased ACE2 Covid-19 receptor, whereas nAChR α7 KO mice show reduced inflammatory responses associated with decreased ACE2 receptor. Interestingly, matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), such as MMP2, MMP8, and MMP9 were altered both at the protein and mRNA transcript levels in female and male, but WT mice exposed to PG alone showed a sex-dependent phenotype. Moreover, MMP12 was increased significantly in male mice exposed to PG with or without nicotine in a nAChR α7-dependent manner. Additionally, sub-chronic e-cig exposure with or without nicotine altered the abundance of ECM proteins, such as collagen and fibronectin significantly in a sex-dependent manner, but without the direct role of nAChR α7 gene. Overall, sub-chronic e-cig exposure with or without nicotine affected lung inflammation and repair responses/ECM remodeling, which were mediated by nAChR α7 in a sex-dependent manner.
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