Cigarette smoke (CS) is the major cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). CS heightens inflammation, oxidative stress and apoptosis. Ergosterol is the main bioactive ingredient in Cordyceps sinensis (C. sinensis), a traditional medicinal herb for various diseases. The objective of this work was to investigate the effects of ergosterol on anti-inflammatory and antioxidative stress as well as anti-apoptosis in a cigarette smoke extract (CSE)-induced COPD model both in vitro and in vivo. Our results demonstrate that CSE induced inflammatory and oxidative stress and apoptosis with the involvement of the Bcl-2 family proteins via the nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB)/p65 pathway in both 16HBE cells and Balb/c mice. CSE induced epithelial cell death and increased the expression of nitric oxide (NO), interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor α (TNF-α), malondialdehyde (MAD) and the apoptosis-related proteins cleaved caspase 3/7/9 and cleaved-poly-(ADP)-ribose polymerase (PARP) both in vitro and in vivo, whereas decreased the levels of superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase (CAT). Treatment of 16HBE cells and Balb/c mice with ergosterol inhibited CSE-induced inflammatory and oxidative stress and apoptosis by inhibiting the activation of NF-κB/p65. Ergosterol suppressed apoptosis by inhibiting the expression of the apoptosis-related proteins both in vitro and in vivo. Moreover, the usage of QNZ (an inhibitor of NF-κB) also partly demonstrated that NF-κB/p65 pathway was involved in the ergosterol protective progress. These results show that ergosterol suppressed COPD inflammatory and oxidative stress and apoptosis through the NF-κB/p65 pathway, suggesting that ergosterol may be partially responsible for the therapeutic effects of cultured C. sinensis on COPD patients.

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