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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Relationships among smoking, oxidative stress, inflammation, macromolecular damage, and cancer.


Smoking is a major risk factor for a variety of diseases, including cancer and immune-mediated inflammatory diseases. Tobacco smoke contains a mixture of chemicals, including a host of reactive oxygen- and nitrogen species (ROS and RNS), among others, that can damage cellular and sub-cellular targets, such as lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids. A growing body of evidence supports a key role for smoking-induced ROS and the resulting oxidative stress in inflammation and carcinogenesis. This comprehensive and up-to-date review covers four interrelated topics, including 'smoking', 'oxidative stress', 'inflammation', and 'cancer'. The review discusses each of the four topics, while exploring the intersections among the topics by highlighting the macromolecular damage attributable to ROS. Specifically, oxidative damage to macromolecular targets, such as lipid peroxidation, post-translational modification of proteins, and DNA adduction, as well as enzymatic and non-enzymatic antioxidant defense mechanisms, and the multi-faceted repair pathways of oxidized lesions are described. Also discussed are the biological consequences of oxidative damage to macromolecules if they evade the defense mechanisms and/or are not repaired properly or in time. Emphasis is placed on the genetic- and epigenetic alterations that may lead to transcriptional deregulation of functionally-important genes and disruption of regulatory elements. Smoking-associated oxidative stress also activates the inflammatory response pathway, which triggers a cascade of events of which ROS production is an initial yet indispensable step. The release of ROS at the site of damage and inflammation helps combat foreign pathogens and restores the injured tissue, while simultaneously increasing the burden of oxidative stress. This creates a vicious cycle in which smoking-related oxidative stress causes inflammation, which in turn, results in further generation of ROS, and potentially increased oxidative damage to macromolecular targets that may lead to cancer initiation and/or progression.

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