Gene expression changes in human small airway epithelial cells exposed to Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol

Theodore Sarafian*, Nancy Habib, Jenny T. Mao, I. Hsien Tsu, Mitsuko L. Yamamoto, Erin Hsu, Donald P. Tashkin, Michael D. Roth

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Marijuana smoking is associated with inflammation, cellular atypia, and molecular dysregulation of the tracheobronchial epithelium. While marijuana smoke shares many components in common with tobacco, it also contains a high concentration of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The potential contribution of THC to airway injury was assessed by exposing primary cultures of human small airway epithelial (SAE) cells to THC (0.1-10.0 μg/ml) for either 1 day or 7 days. THC induced a time- and concentration-dependent decrease in cell viability, ATP level, and mitochondrial membrane potential. Using a targeted gene expression array, we observed acute changes (24 h) in the expression of mRNA for caspase-8, catalase, Bax, early growth response-1, cytochrome P4501A1 (CYP1A1), metallothionein 1A, PLAB, and heat shock factor 1 (HSF1). After 7 days of exposure, decrease in expression of mRNA for heat shock proteins (HSPs) and the pro-apoptotic protein Bax was observed, while expression of GADD45A, IL-1A, CYP1A1, and PTGS-2 increased significantly. These findings suggest a contribution of THC to DNA damage, inflammation, and alterations in apoptosis. Treatment with selected prototypical toxicants, 2,3,7,8- tetrachlorodibenznzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) and carbonyl cyanide-p-(trifluoramethoxy)- phenyl hydrazone (FCCP), produced partially overlapping gene expression profiles suggesting some similarity in mechanism of action with THC. THC, delivered as a component of marijuana smoke, may induce a profile of gene expression that contributes to the pulmonary pathology associated with marijuana use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-107
Number of pages13
JournalToxicology Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 14 2005


  • Airway epithelial cell
  • Gene expression
  • Marijuana
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol
  • cDNA array

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology

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