The daily consumption of tobacco products leads to a boost in free radical production in tissues, promoting the risk for malignancies, metabolic alterations and chronic-inflammatory diseases. This study aimed to broaden the knowledge of the status of the antioxidative (AO) system in the skin, compared to the blood, of healthy appearing smokers. Both, the basic status compared to non-smokers and the short-term impact of controlled cigarette consumption in smokers were analyzed. Our study showed that the basic level of the AO system of smokers significantly differed from that of non-smokers. As determined by resonant Raman spectroscopy (RRS), the levels of exogenous AOs were decreased in both, the skin, in vivo (β-carotene and lycopene), and blood plasma (β-carotene only). In contrast, the levels of glutathione (GSH), the prototypical endogenous AO, which were analyzed by fluorimetric assays in cutaneous tape strips and blood plasma, were increased in the skin, although unchanged in the blood of smokers. Elevated cutaneous GSH levels were reflected by an elevated overall radical scavenging activity in the skin, as quantified by non-invasive electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy. Analysis of the expression of selected stress-associated genes in blood immune cells by quantitative RT-PCR in subgroups of non-smokers and smokers additionally demonstrated the downregulation of AKR1C2 in smokers, and its negative correlation with blood plasma levels of the protective immune mediator interleukin-22, assessed by the ELISA technique. Controlled cigarette consumption did not alter exogenous or endogenous AOs in the skin of smokers, but decreased lycopene levels in blood plasma. Moreover, there was a decline in blood IL-22 levels, while no relevant response of blood cell gene expressions was found after the considered short time. Our data therefore demonstrate a strengthened endogenous AO status in the skin of smokers, which may indicate a long-term adaptation to chronic oxidative stress in this specific organ. While this effect was not clearly visible in the blood, this compartment seems to be useful as an immediate indicator of the body’s AO consumption. Moreover, decreased levels of AKR1C2, which we show for the first time to be expressed in immune cells, may be a candidate marker for long-term smoking. In addition, this study demonstrates that the rate constant of a spin probe decline determined by EPR spectroscopy mainly represents the endogenous AO status of a tissue.
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