Dental Tribune International

Electronic cigarette study details impact on neural stem cells

RIVERSIDE, Calif., U.S.: In the next few years, dentists may start to see the effects of electronic cigarettes (ECs) in more detail. Promoted as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, they arrived on the market a relatively short time ago, so there has been little research on their effects until recently. In a new study, scientists from the University of California, Riverside have found that ECs produce a stress response in neural stem cells, which are critical cells in the brain.

“Although originally introduced as safer, ECs, such as Vuse and JUUL, are not harmless,” said Dr. Atena Zahedi, the first author of the research paper. “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.”

Until now, it was not understood how the chemicals in ECs might affect neural stem cells, particularly their mitochondria—organelles that are critical in regulating cell health. Through their research, the team were able to identify the mechanism underlying EC-induced stem cell toxicity as stress-induced mitochondrial hyperfusion (SIMH).

“SIMH is a protective, survival response,” said Prof. Prue Talbot, from the Department of Molecular, Cell and Systems Biology, who led the research. “Our data show that exposure of stem cells to e-liquids, aerosols, or nicotine produces a response that leads to SIMH.”

“The high levels of nicotine in ECs lead to a nicotine flooding of special receptors in the neural stem cell membrane,” Zahedi said. “Nicotine binds to these receptors, causing them to open up. Calcium and other ions begin to enter the cell. Eventually, a calcium overload follows.”

The researchers also noted that young people need to take particular care, as their brains are in a crucial development stage and nicotine exposure may impair memory, learning and cognition.

The study, titled “Mitochondrial stress response in neural stem cells exposed to electronic cigarettes,” was published on June 28, 2019, in iScience.

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