Neuropathology of cigarette smoking

Acta Neuropathol. 2014 Jan;127(1):53-69. doi: 10.1007/s00401-013-1210-x. Epub 2013 Nov 16.


It is well established that cigarette smoking is hazardous to health and is a risk factor for many chronic diseases. However, its impact on the brain, whether it be from prenatal exposure to maternal cigarette smoking, cerebrovascular disease, Alzheimer's disease (AD) or Parkinson's disease, is still not very clear. Neuroimaging and neuropathological investigations suggest that there are heterogeneous effects of cigarette smoking on the brain. On the one hand, it is quite clear that cigarette smoking causes damage to endothelial cells, resulting in increased risk of cerebrovascular disease. On the other hand, it seems to be associated with different Alzheimer's pathologies in post-mortem brains and experimental models, despite the fact that epidemiological studies clearly indicate a positive correlation between cigarette smoking and increased risk for AD. Interestingly, cigarette smoking appears to be associated with reduced Parkinson's pathology in post-mortem brains. However, although nicotine in cigarettes may have some neuroprotective actions, the effects of all the other toxic compounds in cigarettes cannot be ignored. It is, therefore, our aim to summarize what is known about the neuropathology of cigarette smoking and, in particular, its implications for neurodegenerative diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / etiology
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / etiology
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / pathology*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / physiopathology
  • Parkinson Disease / pathology
  • Parkinson Disease / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects
  • Smoking / adverse effects*