Nicotine is a highly addictive principal component of both tobacco and electronic cigarette that is readily absorbed in blood. Nicotine-containing electronic cigarettes are promoted as a safe alternative to cigarette smoking. However, the isolated effects of inhaled nicotine are largely unknown. Here we report a novel rat model of aerosolized nicotine with a particle size (~1 μm) in the respirable diameter range. Acute nicotine inhalation caused increased pulmonary edema and lung injury as measured by enhanced bronchoalveolar lavage fluid protein, IgM, lung wet-to-dry weight ratio, and high-mobility group box 1 (HMGB1) protein and decreased lung E-cadherin protein. Immunohistochemical analysis revealed congested blood vessels and increased neutrophil infiltration. Lung myeloperoxidase mRNA and protein increased in the nicotine-exposed rats. Complete blood counts also showed an increase in neutrophils, white blood cells, eosinophils, and basophils. Arterial blood gas measurements showed an increase in lactate. Lungs of nicotine-inhaling animals revealed increased mRNA levels of IL-1A and CXCL1. There was also an increase in IL-1α protein. In in vitro air-liquid interface cultures of airway epithelial cells, there was a dose dependent increase in HMGB1 release with nicotine treatment. Air-liquid cultures exposed to nicotine also resulted in a dose-dependent loss of barrier as measured by transepithelial electrical resistance and a decrease in E-cadherin expression. Nicotine also caused a dose-dependent increase in epithelial cell death and an increase in caspase-3/7 activities. These results show that the nicotine content of electronic cigarettes may have adverse pulmonary and systemic effects.
Keywords: aerosol; lung injury; nicotine; pulmonary edema; rats.