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Cow Dung Biomass Smoke Exposure Increases Adherence of Respiratory Pathogen Nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae to Human Bronchial Epithelial Cells

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Biomass smoke exposure is associated with a heightened risk of development of respiratory diseases that include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The aim of this study was to increase our understanding of how biomass smoke could contribute to an increased susceptibility to respiratory infection. We investigated the effects of cow dung and wood smoke exposure on human bronchial epithelial cells with respect to adherence of a major respiratory bacterial pathogen in COPD, nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHi), using immunofluorescence microscopy. In addition, expression of a known receptor of NTHi, platelet-activating factor receptor (PAFR), and two pro-inflammatory cytokines, interleukin 6 (IL-6) and interleukin-8 (IL-8), were determined using quantitative polymerase chain reaction. We observed a dose-dependent increase in NTHi adhesion to human bronchial epithelial cells following exposure to cow dung but not wood smoke extracts. Pre-treatment with PAFR antagonists, WEB-2086 and its analogue, C17, decreased adherence by NTHi to airway epithelial cells exposed to cow dung smoke. Both cow dung and wood smoke-induced expression of PAFR, as well as of IL-6 and IL-8, which was inhibited by WEB-2086 and C17. In conclusion, biomass smoke from combustion of cow dung and wood-induced expression of PAFR and airway inflammatory markers in human bronchial epithelial cells. Cow dung exposure, but not wood smoke exposure, mediated a measurable increase in NTHi adhesion to airway epithelial cells that was inhibited by PAFR antagonists. This work highlights the potential of PAFR as a therapeutic target for reducing the impact of hazardous biomass smoke exposure on respiratory health.

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The authors acknowledge the technical support of Laboratory Manager, David Steele, at the Tasmanian School of Medicine, College of Health and Medicine, University of Tasmania. They are also grateful to Conall O’Toole for assistance with the collection of wood and cow dung samples.


RKC is a recipient of a Health Tasmania Graduate Research Scholarship through the University of Tasmania. PMH is funded by a Fellowship from the NHMRC (1079187).

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Correspondence to Ronan F. O’Toole.

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The authors report no conflict of interest.

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This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors. The study was approved by the Tasmanian Health and Medical Human Research Ethics Committee (EC00337).

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KC, R., Hyland, I.K., Smith, J.A. et al. Cow Dung Biomass Smoke Exposure Increases Adherence of Respiratory Pathogen Nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae to Human Bronchial Epithelial Cells. Expo Health 12, 883–895 (2020).

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