E-cigarette use results in suppression of immune and inflammatory-response genes in nasal epithelial cells similar to cigarette smoke

Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2016 Jul 1;311(1):L135-44. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00170.2016. Epub 2016 Jun 10.


Exposure to cigarette smoke is known to result in impaired host defense responses and immune suppressive effects. However, the effects of new and emerging tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes, on the immune status of the respiratory epithelium are largely unknown. We conducted a clinical study collecting superficial nasal scrape biopsies, nasal lavage, urine, and serum from nonsmokers, cigarette smokers, and e-cigarette users and assessed them for changes in immune gene expression profiles. Smoking status was determined based on a smoking history and a 3- to 4-wk smoking diary and confirmed using serum cotinine and urine 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanol (NNAL) levels. Total RNA from nasal scrape biopsies was analyzed using the nCounter Human Immunology v2 Expression panel. Smoking cigarettes or vaping e-cigarettes resulted in decreased expression of immune-related genes. All genes with decreased expression in cigarette smokers (n = 53) were also decreased in e-cigarette smokers. Additionally, vaping e-cigarettes was associated with suppression of a large number of unique genes (n = 305). Furthermore, the e-cigarette users showed a greater suppression of genes common with those changed in cigarette smokers. This was particularly apparent for suppressed expression of transcription factors, such as EGR1, which was functionally associated with decreased expression of 5 target genes in cigarette smokers and 18 target genes in e-cigarette users. Taken together, these data indicate that vaping e-cigarettes is associated with decreased expression of a large number of immune-related genes, which are consistent with immune suppression at the level of the nasal mucosa.

Keywords: e-cigarettes; gene expression; nasal epithelial cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • Cytokines / genetics
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems
  • Female
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Humans
  • Immunocompromised Host
  • Male
  • Nasal Mucosa / drug effects
  • Nasal Mucosa / immunology
  • Nasal Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Nitrosamines / urine
  • Prospective Studies
  • Pyridines / urine
  • Signal Transduction
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Smoking / metabolism*
  • Transcription Factors / physiology
  • Transcriptome
  • Vaping / adverse effects
  • Vaping / metabolism*
  • Young Adult


  • Cytokines
  • Nitrosamines
  • Pyridines
  • Transcription Factors
  • 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butan-1-ol