In vitro effects of aldehydes present in tobacco smoke on gene expression in human lung alveolar epithelial cells.

N.P. Cheah*, J.L. Pennings, J.P. Vermeulen, F.J. van Schooten, A. Opperhuizen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Tobacco smoke consists of thousands of harmful components. A major class of chemicals found in tobacco smoke is formed by aldehydes, in particular formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and acrolein. The present study investigates the gene expression changes in human lung alveolar epithelial cells upon exposure to formaldehyde, acrolein and acetaldehyde at sub-cytotoxic levels. We exposed A549 cells in vitro to aldehydes and non-aldehyde chemicals (nicotine, hydroquinone and 2,5-dimethylfuran) present in tobacco smoke and used microarrays to obtain a global view of the transcriptomic responses. We compared responses of the individual aldehydes with that of the non-aldehydes. We also studied the response of the aldehydes when present in a mixture at relative concentrations as present in cigarette smoke. Formaldehyde gave the strongest response; a total of 66 genes were more than 1.5-fold differentially expressed mostly involved in apoptosis and DNA damage related processes, followed by acetaldehyde (57 genes), hydroquinone (55 genes) and nicotine (8 genes). For acrolein and the mixture only one gene was upregulated involved in oxidative stress. No gene expression effect was found for exposure to 2,5-dimethylfuran. Overall, aldehyde responses are primarily indicative for genotoxicity and oxidative stress. These two toxicity mechanisms are linked to respiratory diseases such as cancer and COPD, respectively. The present findings could be important in providing further understanding of the role of aldehydes emitted from cigarette smoke in the onset of pulmonary diseases. 

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1072-1081
Number of pages10
JournalToxicology in Vitro
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2013


  • Tobacco smoke
  • Formaldehyde
  • Acrolein
  • Acetaldehyde
  • Gene expression
  • LINE
  • RATS


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