Science 3 min read

New Study Explains How Electronic Cigarettes Damage Brain Stem Cells

Electronic cigarettes have gained popularity across the globe as a substitute for tobacco. However, despite claims that it poses no risk to human health, a new study revealed that e-cigarettes have a damaging effect on our brain's neural stem cells.

sarahjohnson1 / Pixabay

sarahjohnson1 / Pixabay

While electronic cigarettes may not be as deadly as the conventional ones, a recent study suggests that they aren’t healthy either.

E-cigarettes were first introduced into the Chinese market back in 2004 as an alternative to tobacco burning. It quickly enjoyed adoption.

In 2016, about 3.2 percent of adults in the United States were using the electronic nicotine delivery system.

But, the number has grown since then. Today, vaping is the most popular form of tobacco use among teens in the U.S. Its use among high school students rose by 900 percent between 2011 and 2015.

Now researchers at the University of California, Riverside are saying that electronic cigarettes produce stress response in neural stem cells. In other words, when users inhale the fumes, it travels through the olfactory tracks to damage stem cells in the brain.

According to the first author of the study, Atena Zahedi:

“Although originally introduced as safer, ECs, such as Vuse and JUUL, are not harmless. Even short-term exposure can stress cells in a manner that may lead, with chronic use, to cell death or disease. Our observations are likely to pertain to any product containing nicotine.”

How Electronic Cigarettes Can Damage Brain Stem Cells

Stem cells ultimately develop into specialized cells with more specific functions, such as blood cells, brain cells, or bone. Before that happens, they are susceptible to stress, which makes them the perfect model to study exposure to toxicants, such as cigarette smoke.

For the study, the UC researchers used neural stem cells of cultured mouse and identified the mechanism that’s responsible for the EC-induced stem cell toxicity. They are calling it “stress-induced mitochondrial hyperfusion,” or SIMH.

Lead researcher of the study and professor in the Department of Molecular, Cell and Systems Biology, Prue Talbot said:

“SIMH is a protective, survival response. Our data show that exposure of stem cells to e-liquids, aerosols, or nicotine produces a response that leads to SIMH.”

Here is how it happens.

Due to the high level of nicotine in E-cigarettes, the specialized receptors in the neural stem cell membrane becomes flooded with the harmful substance.

Then, a bond forms between nicotine and the receptors, which causes them to open up and allow calcium and other ions into the cell. Eventually, an excess calcium deposit follows.

The excess calcium overload causes swelling in the mitochondria. Not only does this change the components function and morphology, but it could even rupture and leak molecules that could cause cell death.

Zahedi noted:

“If the nicotine stress persists, SIMH collapses, the neural stem cells get damaged and could eventually die. If that happens, no more specialized cells—astrocytes and neurons, for example—can be produced from stem cells.”

The researcher added that a damaged stem cell mitochondria could lead to neurodegenerative diseases and accelerate aging too.

Read More: Researchers Derived Sensory Interneurons From Stem Cells for the First Time

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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