Current study: E-cigarette vapor destroys neural stem cells in the brain

Current study: E-cigarette vapor destroys neural stem cells in the brain

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Effects of e-cigarettes on brain cells

There has been a lot of discussion lately about how harmful e-cigarettes really are. Researchers have now found that electronic cigarettes cause a stress response in neural stem cells that can even lead to cell death.

A recent study by the University of California, Riverside found that e-cigarettes damage neural stem cells. The results of the study were published in the English-language journal "Cell Press".

Stem cells are very sensitive to stress

Stem cells become specialized cells with specific functions such as brain cells or blood cells. Stem cells are far more sensitive to stress than specialized cells that ultimately form them. This also applies to exposure to toxic substances such as cigarette smoke. The extent to which electronic cigarettes can also damage stem cells became clear in the current study.

What is stress-induced mitochondrial hyperfusion?

Until now it was unclear how the chemicals in the vapor of e-cigarettes can affect neural stem cells, especially their mitochondria - the organelles, which serve as cell power plants and are of crucial importance for regulating cell health. Using cultured mouse neural stem cells, the researchers identified the mechanism underlying stem cell toxicity induced by e-cigarettes as so-called stress-induced mitochondrial hyperfusion. Stress-induced mitochondrial hyperfusion is a protective survival response, the study authors report. The data examined show that the exposure of stem cells to nicotine-containing e-cigarette vapor causes a reaction that leads to stress-induced mitochondrial hyperfusion.

How is cell death triggered by e-cigarettes?

Although e-cigarettes have been classified as safer compared to conventional cigarettes, they are not harmless. Even brief exposure can strain the cells in a way that, if used repeatedly, can lead to cell death. The observations relate to products that contained nicotine. The high nicotine level leads to a nicotine flooding of special receptors in the membrane of neuronal stem cells. Nicotine binds to these receptors and causes them to open. Calcium and other ions begin to enter the cell. At some point, calcium overload occurs, the researchers explain in a press release. Too much calcium in the mitochondria is harmful. The mitochondria swell and change their morphology and function. Molecules can even break open and escape, leading to cell death.

Impact of damaged stem cells on health

If the nicotine stress persists, the neural stem cells will be damaged and eventually die. In this case, specialized cells, such as astrocytes and neurons, cannot be produced from stem cells. Damaged stem cell mitochondria could accelerate aging and lead to neurodegenerative diseases. Neural stem cells can be exposed to nicotine by the olfactory route.

Adolescents and pregnant women should be particularly careful

Adolescents and pregnant women in particular should be careful. The brain of adolescents is at a critical stage of development, the researchers report. Exposure to nicotine during prenatal or adolescent development can affect the brain in a variety of ways, affecting memory, learning, and cognition. In addition, addiction and nicotine addiction are particularly dangerous in youth. It should be emphasized that nicotine damages the neural stem cells and their mitochondria. This is particularly worrying as nicotine and related liquids for e-cigarettes are now widespread in EU countries. (as)

Read these interesting articles on the subject:

  • Study: E-cigarettes as harmful to our lungs as normal tobacco products?
  • Use of e-cigarettes increases the risk of heart attacks and depression
  • Double the risk of heart attack if you use e-cigarettes every day

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Atena Zahedi, Rattapol Phandthong, Angela Chaili, Sara Leung, Esther Omaiye, Prue Talbot: Mitochondrial Stress Response in Neural Stem Cells Exposed to Electronic Cigarettes, in Cell Press, Cell Press
  • Study finds electronic cigarettes damage brain stem cells, University of California, Riverside, University of California, Riverside

Video: Seduction of Smoking - E Cigarettes. Social Documentary. Reel Truth. Science (December 2022).