Effects of waterpipe smoking on lung pathobiology and carcinogenesis remain sparse despite the worldwide emergence of this tobacco vector. To address this gap, we investigated the effects of chronic waterpipe smoke (WPS) exposure on lung pathobiology, host immunity, and tumorigenesis using an experimental animal model that is prone to tobacco carcinogens and an exploratory observational analysis of human waterpipe smokers and nonsmokers. Mice exhibited elevated incidence of lung tumors following heavy WPS exposure (5 days/week for 20 weeks) compared to littermates with light WPS (once/week for 20 weeks) or control air. Lungs of mice exposed to heavy WPS showed augmented CD8+ and CD4+ T cell counts along with elevated protumor immune phenotypes including increased IL17A in T/B cells, PD-L1 on tumor and immune cells, and the proinflammatory cytokine IL1β in myeloid cells. RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq) analysis showed reduced antitumor immune gene signatures in animals exposed to heavy WPS relative to control air. We also performed RNA-seq analysis of airway epithelia from bronchial brushings of cancer-free waterpipe smokers and nonsmokers undergoing diagnostic bronchoscopy. Transcriptomes of normal airway cells in waterpipe smokers, relative to waterpipe nonsmokers, harbored gene programs that were associated with poor clinical outcomes in patients with lung adenocarcinoma, alluding to a WPS-associated molecular injury, like that established in response to cigarette smoking. Our findings support the notion that WPS exhibits carcinogenic effects and constitutes a possible risk factor for lung cancer as well as warrant future studies that can guide evidence-based policies for mitigating waterpipe smoking.
Potential carcinogenic effects of waterpipe smoking are very poorly understood despite its emergence as a socially acceptable form of smoking. Our work highlights carcinogenic effects of waterpipe smoking in the lung and, thus, accentuate the need for inclusion of individuals with exclusive waterpipe smoking in prevention and smoking cessation studies.