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Epigenetic effects of cigarette smoke on the infant airway

Institution: University of California, Davis
Investigator(s): Candice Clay, Ph.D.
Award Cycle: 2011 (Cycle 20) Grant #: 20FT-0075 Award: $82,569
Subject Area: Pulmonary Disease
Award Type: Postdoctoral Fellowship Awards

Initial Award Abstract
Cigarette smoke exposure significantly increases one\'s risk of lung infections, with higher incidence, enhanced severity and longer lasting illnesses reported in smokers and those exposed to second hand smoke. It is unclear how cigarette smoke damages the immune system and reduces a person’s resistance to infection. Young children may be more sensitive to the effects of second hand smoke as the first year of life represents a development period for both the lung and the immune system. Many consider this early developmental phase a window of susceptibility for damage by air pollutants as exposure during this time has the potential to permanently affect the overall growth and function of the lung. Despite the abundant medical records correlating early life tobacco smoke exposures with increased incidence of lung infections, very little is known about the specific effects of cigarette smoke on the human infant lung due to the challenges and ethical concerns involved in studying the pediatric population. Neonatal animal models that mimic the developing human lung are critical for determining the impact of cigarette smoke exposure on an infant’s ability to fight lung infections. We propose that second hand cigarette smoke exposure during the first year of life results in permanent damage to infant immune cells in the lung. We will test if these smoke-exposed cells are functionally impaired and unable to fight against infections. The ultimate goal of this fellowship proposal is to gain a better understanding of how cigarette smoke exposure affects the infant immune system. From these studies we can expand into research aimed at identifying ways to either 1) improve immune function following cigarette smoke exposure or 2) prevent the damage caused by cigarette smoke.