Researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC), School of Medicine found that smoking E-cigarettes lowers the expression of dozens of genes involved in immune defense mechanisms responsible for prevention of lung diseases.
The study, “E-cigarette use results in suppression of immune and inflammatory response genes in nasal epithelial cells similar to cigarette smoke,” was published in the American Journal of Physiology.
The association between tobacco smoking and lung diseases is well documented, but the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes on the immune system of the upper airways and development of lung diseases is still unknown.
Thirteen non-smokers, 14 smokers, and 12 e-cigarette users were recruited for the study. The smoking preference of each participant was recorded (regular cigarette or e-cigarette), and their urine and blood analyzed to corroborate nicotine levels and biomarkers linked to tobacco exposure.
The nasal passages are made of epithelial layers responsible for capturing harmful particulates. These cells were examined in the study’s participants after three weeks to identify gene expression patterns relevant to immune responses.
Results suggested that compared to the control non-smokers, the smokers had reduced expression of genes involved in immune defense. The reduction was much more pronounced for e-cigarettes users (53 genes for regular cigarette users versus 358 for e-cigarettes).
“I was really surprised by these results,” said lead researcher Ilona Jaspers, professor of pediatrics, and microbiology and immunology at UNC, in a press release. “That’s why we kept going back to make sure this was accurate.”
Jaspers said the genes were compared on by one.
“We found that each gene common to both groups was suppressed more in the e-cigarette group. We currently do not know exactly how e-cigarettes do this,” Jaspers said.
The long-term association between the use of e-cigarette and lung diseases, including cancer, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), is still not clear and requires further studies.
Evidence so far is leading scientists to believe that some long term health issues will be eventually tied to e-cigarette use.
“We know that diseases like COPD, cancer, and emphysema usually take many years to develop in smokers, (…) But people have not been using e-cigarettes for very long. So we don’t know yet how the effects of e-cigarette use might manifest in 10 or 15 years. We’re at the beginning of cataloging and observing what may or may not be happening,” Jaspers said.
In the more immediate future, Jasper hopes next to evaluate the immune response of epithelial cells in smokers, non-smokers, and e-cigarette users by exposing a collection of cell samples to a flu vaccine.