Affiliation: School of Medicine, Department of Cell Biology and Physiology
Coakley, Raymond D.
Affiliation: School of Medicine, Marsico Lung Institute/UNC Cystic Fibrosis Center
Alexis, Neil E.
Affiliation: School of Medicine, Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma and Lung Biology
Other Affiliation: Kansas University Medical Center
Proteases such as neutrophil elastase cleave and activate the epithelial sodium channel (ENaC), causing airway dehydration. Our current study explores the impact of increased protease levels in vapers’ airways on ENaC activity and airway dehydration. Human bronchial epithelial cultures (HBECs) were exposed to bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF) from non-smokers, smokers and vapers. Airway surface liquid (ASL) height was measured by confocal microscopy as a marker of hydration. ENaC cleavage was measured by Western blotting. Human peripheral blood neutrophils were treated with a menthol-flavored e-liquid (Juul), and the resulting secretions were added to HBECs. BALF from smokers and vapers significantly and equally increased ENaC activity and decreased ASL height. The ASL height decrease was attenuated by protease inhibitors. Non-smokers’ BALF had no effect on ENaC or ASL height. BALF from smokers and vapers, but not non-smokers, induced ENaC cleavage. E-liquid-treated neutrophil secretions cleaved ENaC and decreased ASL height. Our study demonstrated that elevated protease levels in vapers’ airways have functional significance since they can activate ENaC, resulting in airway dehydration. Lung dehydration contributes to diseases like cystic fibrosis (CF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. Thus, our data predict that vaping, like smoking, will cause airway surface dehydration that likely leads to lung disease.