Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is characterized by the presence of airflow obstruction and lung destruction with airspace enlargement. In addition to cigarette smoking, respiratory pathogens play a role in pathogenesis, but specific organisms are not always identified. Recent reports demonstrate associations between the detection of Pneumocystis jirovecii DNA in lung specimens or respiratory secretions and the presence of emphysema in COPD patients. Additionally, human immunodeficiency virus-infected individuals who smoke cigarettes develop early emphysema, but a role for P. jirovecii in pathogenesis remains speculative. We developed a new experimental model using immunocompetent mice to test the interaction of cigarette smoke exposure and environmentally acquired Pneumocystis murina infection in vivo. We hypothesized that cigarette smoke and P. murina would interact to cause increases in total lung capacity, airspace enlargement, and pulmonary inflammation. We found that exposure to cigarette smoke significantly increases the lung organism burden of P. murina. Pulmonary infection with P. murina, combined with cigarette smoke exposure, results in changes in pulmonary function and airspace enlargement characteristic of pulmonary emphysema. P. murina and cigarette smoke exposure interact to cause increased lung inflammatory cell accumulation. These findings establish a novel animal model system to explore the role of Pneumocystis species in the pathogenesis of COPD.
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