Addressing the challenges of E-cigarette safety profiling by assessment of pulmonary toxicological response in bronchial and alveolar mucosa models

Sci Rep. 2020 Nov 24;10(1):20460. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-77452-w.


Limited toxicity data on electronic cigarette (ECIG) impede evidence-based policy recommendations. We compared two popular mixed fruit flavored ECIG-liquids with and without nicotine aerosolized at 40 W (E-smoke) with respect to particle number concentrations, chemical composition, and response on physiologically relevant human bronchial and alveolar lung mucosa models cultured at air-liquid interface. E-smoke was characterized by significantly increased particle number concentrations with increased wattage (25, 40, and 55 W) and nicotine presence. The chemical composition of E-smoke differed across the two tested flavors in terms of cytotoxic compounds including p-benzoquinone, nicotyrine, and flavoring agents (for example vanillin, ethyl vanillin). Significant differences in the expression of markers for pro-inflammation, oxidative stress, tissue injury/repair, alarm anti-protease, anti-microbial defense, epithelial barrier function, and epigenetic modification were observed between the flavors, nicotine content, and/ or lung models (bronchial or alveolar). Our findings indicate that ECIG toxicity is influenced by combination of multiple factors including flavor, nicotine content, vaping regime, and the region of respiratory tree (bronchial or alveolar). Toxic chemicals and flavoring agents detected in high concentrations in the E-smoke of each flavor warrant independent evaluation for their specific role in imparting toxicity. Therefore, multi-disciplinary approaches are warranted for comprehensive safety profiling of ECIG.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bronchi / chemistry
  • Bronchi / cytology*
  • Bronchi / drug effects
  • Cell Culture Techniques
  • Cell Line
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems
  • Flavoring Agents / adverse effects
  • Flavoring Agents / chemistry
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Genetic Markers / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Nicotine / adverse effects*
  • Particle Size
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / chemistry
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / cytology*
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / drug effects
  • Vaping / adverse effects*


  • Flavoring Agents
  • Genetic Markers
  • Nicotine