Vaping linked to biological changes that cause inflammation, disease

Researchers say that vaping affects the health of cells in ways similar to smoking cigarettes, increasing the risk for users to develop a range of chronic diseases. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Researchers say that vaping affects the health of cells in ways similar to smoking cigarettes, increasing the risk for users to develop a range of chronic diseases. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 23 (UPI) -- Vaping, without previous cigarette smoking, is linked to biological changes that can cause inflammation, leading to disease, a study published Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports found.

University of Southern California researchers found that chemicals in e-cigarette vapors persistently affect cell function, causing chronic inflammation, which may then lead to chronic disorders that include cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic diseases, as well as cancer.


While these biological effects were found independent of previous cigarette smoking, the changes are more extensive in people who smoke, according to the researchers.

"Our study, for the first time, investigates the biological effects of vaping in adult e-cigarette users, while simultaneously accounting for their past smoking exposure," study corresponding author Ahemad Besaratinia said in a press release.

"Our data indicate that vaping, much like smoking, is associated with dysregulation of mitochondrial genes and disruption of molecular pathways involved in immunity and the inflammatory response, which govern health versus disease state," said Besaratinia, a professor of research population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine at USC.


The research team previously found that e-cigarette users develop some of the same cancer-related molecular changes on oral tissue as cigarette smokers. They also found that vaping is associated with similar biological changes.

For the new study, researchers divided 82 healthy adult participants into three groups, including current vapers, current smokers and non-smokers and non-vapers, the study published in Scientific Reports showed.

Researchers then conducted a genome-wide search for changes in gene regulation among these participants, and used further computer modeling to determine whether the gene disruption was separate from past smoking.

They found that for both vapers and smokers, mitochondrial genes are preferential targets of gene dysregulations, and both populations had significant dysregulation of immune response genes.

"When mitochondria become dysfunctional, they release key molecules," Besaratina said. "The released molecules can function as signals for the immune system, triggering an immune response that leads to inflammation."

This "is not only important for maintaining health but also plays a critical role in the development of various diseases, such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, metabolic diseases and cancer," Besaratina said.

Vaping is widespread among adolescents and teens, as well as adult smokers seeking a less harmful alternative to cigarettes, but the long-term health consequences are largely unknown, researchers said.


E-cigarettes don't burn tobacco to produce inhalable materials, instead heating liquids, leading to the perception that they are less harmful than cigarette smoking.

Last month, a study published by Chemical Research in Toxicology found that vaping devices contain thousands of unknown chemicals and substances, including some that were potentially harmful, according to the researchers.

Exposure to e-cigarettes has also previously been associated with a variety of cardiovascular, inflammatory and respiratory diseases.

A separate study released earlier this month by researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at New York's Mount Sinai hospital examining nearly 80,000 medical records found that adults who vape were more likely to suffer a stroke at a younger age than those who smoke tobacco.

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