Background/objective: The use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) is rapidly increasing in the United States, especially among young people since e-cigarettes have been perceived as a safer alternative to conventional tobacco cigarettes. However, the scientific evidence regarding the human health effects of e-cigarettes on the lung is extremely limited. The major goal of our current study is to determine if e-cigarette use alters human young subject airway epithelial functions such as inflammatory response and innate immune defense against respiratory viral (i.e., human rhinovirus, HRV) infection.
Methodology/main results: We examined the effects of e-cigarette liquid (e-liquid) on pro-inflammatory cytokine (e.g., IL-6) production, HRV infection and host defense molecules (e.g., short palate, lung, and nasal epithelium clone 1, SPLUNC1) in primary human airway epithelial cells from young healthy non-smokers. Additionally, we examined the role of SPLUNC1 in lung defense against HRV infection using a SPLUNC1 knockout mouse model. We found that nicotine-free e-liquid promoted IL-6 production and HRV infection. Addition of nicotine into e-liquid further amplified the effects of nicotine-free e-liquid. Moreover, SPLUNC1 deficiency in mice significantly increased lung HRV loads. E-liquid inhibited SPLUNC1 expression in primary human airway epithelial cells. These findings strongly suggest the deleterious health effects of e-cigarettes in the airways of young people. Our data will guide future studies to evaluate the impact of e-cigarettes on lung health in human populations, and help inform the public about potential health risks of e-cigarettes.