While lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the US, we have a limited understanding of the earliest molecular events preceding the onset of disease. Prior work has demonstrated that cigarette smoke creates a molecular “field of injury” throughout the airway epithelium and that there are distinct alterations in the airway transcriptome among smokers who have lung cancer. Molecular characterization of this airway “field of injury” in current and former smokers with premalignant lesions (PMLs) could provide novel insights into the earliest molecular events associated with lung carcinogenesis and identify relatively accessible biomarkers to guide lung cancer detection and early intervention. Using mRNA sequencing (mRNA-Seq), we profiled 82 cytologically normal bronchial airway epithelial cells collected during autofluorescence bronchoscopy from high-risk smokers with and without bronchial PMLs, 75 of which were used in downstream analyses. We identified 280 genes differentially expressed in the “field of injury” between subjects with (n=50) and without (n=25) PMLs (FDR<0.002), 81 of which were up-regulated in subjects with PMLs. Oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS), the electron transport chain (ETC), and mitochondrial protein transport pathways were strongly enriched among these up-regulated genes (FDR<0.05). We next demonstrated that OXPHOS activation is shared between the “field” and the PMLs with increased oxygen consumption and increased staining for mitochondrial markers in biopsies of PMLs from patients as well as an animal model of lung squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) premalignancy. The 280-gene signature also has a significant concordant relationship to gene expression changes identified in PMLs adjacent to lung SCC tumors, in lung SCC tumors, and in the cytologically normal airway of individuals with lung cancer (FDR<0.05). These findings suggest that these expression changes are reflective of early cancer-associated changes occurring throughout the respiratory tract, and that pathways such as OXPHOS may be targets for chemoprevention. We subsequently developed an airway gene expression biomarker that predicts the presence of PMLs (AUC=0.92, n=17 samples in test set) and show that changes in the biomarker score are associated with progression and regression of PMLs in an independent cohort (AUC=0.75, n=51 samples). The biomarker results indicate that molecular alterations in the field of injury are dynamic with progression or regression of PMLs, suggesting that these changes may be leveraged to stratify high-risk smokers with progressive disease into early intervention trials and monitor disease progression or recurrence. Overall design: 82 mRNA-Seq samples from 25 smokers without PMLs, 50 smokers with PMLs, and 7 smokers with metaplasia.