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E-cigarettes may damage neural stem cells important to brain function

By New York Daily News (TNS) - Jul 03,2019 - Last updated at Jul 03,2019

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Puffing on electronic cigarettes can damage neural stem cells important to brain function, a new study says.

E-cigarettes produce a stress response in neural stem cells, researchers at the University of California at Riverside reported in a study published in the interdisciplinary open-access journal iScience.

E-cigarette users may think they’re safer and cleaner than tobacco cigarettes — but evidence is mounting that nicotine is harmful whether it’s smoked in a traditional cigarette or vaped in an e-cigarette. Another recent study found that certain e-cigarette flavourings damage cardiovascular cells.

Such products “are not harmless”, said Atena Zahedi, who earned her PhD in bioengineering and co-authored the 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,” Zahedi said in a statement.

E-cigarettes set off a complex series of cellular-level events that damage stem cells’ DNA, the researchers said.

“The neural stem cells get damaged and could eventually die,” Zahedi said. “If that happens, no more specialised cells — astrocytes and neurons, for example — can be produced from stem cells.”

Those cells are critical, the researchers said. Young people and foetuses are especially prone to stem cell damage because their brains are still developing, the researchers said.

That means young people and pregnant women could be particularly vulnerable to harm from e-cigarettes, the researchers say.

“Their brains are in a critical developmental stage,” said Prue Talbot, a professor in the Department of Molecular, Cell and Systems Biology who led the research and directs the Riverside campus’ Stem Cell Centre.

“Nicotine exposure during prenatal or adolescent development can affect the brain in multiple ways that may impair memory, learning, and cognition,” Talbot said in the statement. “Furthermore, addiction and dependence on nicotine in youth are pressing concerns. It’s worth stressing that it is nicotine that is doing damage to neural stem cells and their mitochondria.”

Given the prevalence and availability of nicotine in liquid, inhalable form, Talbot added, “We should be concerned about this.”

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