Cigarette smoking is a major risk factor in the development of various lung diseases, including pulmonary emphysema, pulmonary fibrosis, and lung cancer. The mechanisms of these diseases include alterations in alveolar epithelial cells, which are essential in the maintenance of normal alveolar architecture and function. Following cigarette smoking, alterations in alveolar epithelial cells induce an increase in epithelial permeability, a decrease in surfactant production, the inappropriate production of inflammatory cytokines and growth factors, and an increased risk of lung cancer. However, the most deleterious effect of cigarette smoke on alveolar epithelial cells is cell death, i.e., either apoptosis or necrosis depending on the magnitude of cigarette smoke exposure. Cell death induced by cigarette smoke exposure can largely be accounted for by an enhancement in oxidative stress. In fact, cigarette smoke contains and generates many reactive oxygen species that damage alveolar epithelial cells. Whether apoptosis and/or necrosis in alveolar epithelial cells is enhanced in healthy cigarette smokers is presently unclear. However, recent evidence indicates that the apoptosis of alveolar epithelial cells and alveolar endothelial cells is involved in the pathogenesis of pulmonary emphysema, an important cigarette smoke-induced lung disease characterized by the loss of alveolar structures. This review will discuss oxidative stress, cell death, and other damage to alveolar epithelial cells induced by cigarette smoke
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