E-cigarettes change inflammation in brain, heart, lungs and colon

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Scientists from the University of California San Diego found that daily use of pod-based e-cigarettes alters the inflammatory state across multiple organ systems, including the brain, heart, lungs and colon.

Effects also vary depending on the e-cigarette flavor, and can influence how organs respond to infections, such as SARS-CoV-2.

The research is published in eLife and was conducted by Laura Crotty Alexander et al.

More than 12 million adults in the United States currently use e-cigarettes, with the highest rates of use among those aged 18-24.

Despite their popularity, research on e-cigarettes has been largely limited to studies of short-term use, older devices, such as vape pens or box mods.

In the study, the team focused on the current most prominent e-cigarette brand, JUUL, and its most popular flavors: mint and mango.

To model chronic e-cigarette use, young adult mice were exposed to flavored JUUL aerosols three times a day for three months. Researchers then looked for signs of inflammation across the body.

The team saw the most striking effects in the brain, where several inflammatory markers were elevated.

Additional changes in neuroinflammatory gene expression were noted in the nucleus accumbens, a brain region critical for motivation and reward-processing.

Inflammatory gene expression also increased in the colon, particularly after one month of e-cigarette exposure, which could increase risk of gastrointestinal disease.

In contrast, the heart showed decreased levels of inflammatory markers. Authors said this state of immunosuppression could make cardiac tissue more vulnerable to infection.

The researchers also found that the inflammatory response of each organ varied depending on which JUUL flavor was used.

For example, the hearts of mice that inhaled mint aerosols were much more sensitive to the effects of bacterial pneumonia compared to those that inhaled mango aerosols.

The findings raise major concerns, as neuroinflammation in this region has been linked to anxiety, depression and addictive behaviors, which could further exacerbate substance use and addiction.

The team says many JUUL users are adolescents or young adults whose brains are still developing, so it’s pretty terrifying to learn what may be happening in their brains.

Every organ has its own finely tuned immune environment, so disturbing that balance through e-cigarette use could lead to many long-term health effects.

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If you care about smoking, please read studies that smoking may increase heart disease risk by 200%, and cigarette smoke may make MRSA superbug bacterium more drug-resistant.

For more information about smoking, please see recent studies about e-cigarette smoke may cause lung cancer, bladder disease, and results showing quitting smoking could lead to major changes in gut bacteria.

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