Cigarette Smoke Increases Cell Vulnerability to COVID-19

By Reuters Staff

November 23, 2020

(Reuters) - Exposure to cigarette smoke makes airway cells more vulnerable to infection with the new coronavirus, according to UCLA researchers.

The researchers obtained air-liquid interface cultures derived from primary human nonsmoker airway basal stem cells (ABSCs) and briefly exposed some of them to cigarette smoke. Then they exposed all the cells to the coronavirus.

Compared to cells not exposed to the smoke, smoke-exposed cells were two- or even three-times more likely to become infected with the virus, the researchers reported in Cell Stem Cell.

Analysis of individual cells showed the cigarette smoke reduced the cells' interferon response to the virus.

"If you think of the airways like the high walls that protect a castle, smoking cigarettes is like creating holes in these walls," coauthor Brigitte Gomperts told Reuters. "Smoking reduces the natural defenses and this allows the virus to enter and take over the cells."

SOURCE: Cell Stem Cell, online November 17, 2020.