The Grapevine

Study Finds E-Cigarettes Could Damage Brain Stem Cells, Speed Up Aging

E-cigarettes have been linked to changes to brain functions and aging. A new study warns that smoke from nicotine-based devices could trigger stress response in neural stem cells, which play an important role in the body. 

Researchers from the University of California, Riverside found that the liquids, aerosols or nicotine from e-cigarettes could cause stress-induced mitochondrial hyperfusion (SIMH). The study, published in the journal iScience, states that the stress could lead to cell death or disease.

In addition, the damaged cells could accelerate aging and increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, the researchers said. 

“Even short-term exposure can stress cells in a manner that may lead, with chronic use, to cell death or disease,” Atena Zahedi, first study author, said in a statement. “Our observations are likely to pertain to any product containing nicotine."

Zahedi explained that high levels of nicotine in e-cigarettes affect special receptors in the neural stem cells. The nicotine covers the receptors and enable calcium and other ions to enter the cell, which could lead to cell damage. 

Too much calcium causes the cell to swell and affect its function. The nicotine could also rupture and leak molecules leading to cell death.

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

The researchers noted that young people and pregnant women are at higher risk for the negative impacts of e-cigarettes. For children and the youth, the team said nicotine easily affects their function as their brains are still in the developmental stage. 

Nicotine exposure may damage memory, learning and cognition, according to Prue Talbot, lead researcher and a professor in the Department of Molecular, Cell and Systems Biology. 

The researchers hope that the findings could guide future interventions to address the growing addiction and dependence on nicotine in youth. Second-hand smoke is also another growing concern as e-cigarettes tend to produce more aerosol than regular cigarettes.

Aside from nicotine, the device also contains other potentially harmful substances, including the lung disease-linked flavoring diacetyl, cancer-causing chemicals and heavy metals like nickel, tin and lead.

Vape Jam A visitor vapes and blows a smoke ring during Vape Jam 2019 at ExCel on April 13, 2019 in London, England. John Keeble/Getty Images