Inflammatory Response and Barrier Dysfunction by Different e-Cigarette Flavoring Chemicals Identified by Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry in e-Liquids and e-Vapors on Human Lung Epithelial Cells and Fibroblasts

Appl In Vitro Toxicol. 2017 Mar 1;3(1):28-40. doi: 10.1089/aivt.2016.0030.


Recent studies suggest that electronic cigarette (e-cig) flavors can be harmful to lung tissue by imposing oxidative stress and inflammatory responses. The potential inflammatory response by lung epithelial cells and fibroblasts exposed to e-cig flavoring chemicals in addition to other risk-anticipated flavor enhancers inhaled by e-cig users is not known. The goal of this study was to evaluate the release of the proinflammatory cytokine (interleukin-8 [IL-8]) and epithelial barrier function in response to different e-cig flavoring chemicals identified in various e-cig e-liquid flavorings and vapors by chemical characterization using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis. Flavorings, such as acetoin (butter), diacetyl, pentanedione, maltol (malt), ortho-vanillin (vanilla), coumarin, and cinnamaldehyde in comparison with tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα), were used in this study. Human bronchial epithelial cells (Beas2B), human mucoepidermoid carcinoma epithelial cells (H292), and human lung fibroblasts (HFL-1) were treated with each flavoring chemical for 24 hours. The cells and conditioned media were then collected and analyzed for toxicity (viability %), lung epithelial barrier function, and proinflammatory cytokine IL-8 release. Cell viability was not significantly affected by any of the flavoring chemicals tested at a concentration of 10 μM to 1 mM. Acetoin and diacetyl treatment induced IL-8 release in Beas2B cells. Acetoin- and pentanedione-treated HFL-1 cells produced a differential, but significant response for IL-8 release compared to controls and TNFα. Flavorings, such as ortho-vanillin and maltol, induced IL-8 release in Beas2B cells, but not in H292 cells. Of all the flavoring chemicals tested, acetoin and maltol were more potent inducers of IL-8 release than TNFα in Beas2B and HFL-1 cells. Flavoring chemicals rapidly impaired epithelial barrier function in human bronchial epithelial cells (16-HBE) as measured by electric cell surface impedance sensing. Our findings suggest that some of the e-cig liquids/aerosols containing flavoring chemicals can cause significant loss of epithelial barrier function and proinflammatory response in lung cells.

Keywords: barrier function; diacetyl; electronic cigarettes; flavors; inflammation; interleukin-8.