"Popcorn workers' lung" is an obstructive pulmonary disease produced by inhalation of volatile artificial butter flavorings. In rats, inhalation of diacetyl, a major component of butter flavoring, and inhalation of a diacetyl substitute, 2,3-pentanedione, produce similar damage to airway epithelium. The effects of diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione and mixtures of diacetyl, acetic acid, and acetoin, all components of butter flavoring, on pulmonary function and airway reactivity to methacholine (MCh) were investigated. Lung resistance (RL) and dynamic compliance (Cdyn) were negligibly changed 18 h after a 6-h inhalation exposure to diacetyl or 2,3-pentanedione (100-360 ppm). Reactivity to MCh was not markedly changed after diacetyl, but was modestly decreased after 2,3-pentanedione inhalation. Inhaled diacetyl exerted essentially no effect on reactivity to mucosally applied MCh, but 2,3-pentanedione (320 and 360 ppm) increased reactivity to MCh in the isolated, perfused trachea preparation (IPT). In IPT, diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione (=3 mM) applied to the serosal and mucosal surfaces of intact and epithelium-denuded tracheas initiated transient contractions followed by relaxations. Inhaled acetoin (150 ppm) exerted no effect on pulmonary function and airway reactivity in vivo; acetic acid (27 ppm) produced hyperreactivity to MCh; and exposure to diacetyl + acetoin + acetic acid (250 + 150 + 27 ppm) led to a diacetyl-like reduction in reactivity. Data suggest that the effects of 2,3-pentanedione on airway reactivity are greater than those of diacetyl, and that flavorings are airway smooth muscle relaxants and constrictors, thus indicating a complex mechanism.
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