Exposure to e-cigarette aerosol over two months induces accumulation of neurotoxic metals and alteration of essential metals in mouse brain

Environ Res. 2021 Nov;202:111557. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2021.111557. Epub 2021 Jul 8.


Despite a recent increase in e-cigarette use, the adverse human health effects of exposure to e-cigarette aerosol, especially on the central nervous system (CNS), remain unclear. Multiple neurotoxic metals have been identified in e-cigarette aerosol. However, it is unknown whether those metals accumulate in the CNS at biologically meaningful levels. To answer this question, two groups of mice were whole-body exposed twice a day, 5 days a week, for two months, to either a dose of e-cigarette aerosol equivalent to human secondhand exposure, or a 5-fold higher dose. After the last exposure, the olfactory bulb, anterior and posterior frontal cortex, striatum, ventral midbrain, cerebellum, brainstem, remaining brain tissue and spinal cord were collected for metal quantification by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry and compared to tissues from unexposed control mice. The two-month exposure caused significant accumulation of several neurotoxic metals in various brain areas - for some metals even at the low exposure dose. The most striking increases were measured in the striatum. For several metals, including Cr, Cu, Fe, Mn, and Pb, similar accumulations are known to be neurotoxic in mice. Decreases in some essential metals were observed across the CNS. Our findings suggest that chronic exposure to e-cigarette aerosol could lead to CNS neurotoxic metal deposition and endogenous metal dyshomeostasis, including potential neurotoxicity. We conclude that e-cigarette-mediated metal neurotoxicity may pose long-term neurotoxic and neurodegenerative risks for e-cigarette users and bystanders.

Keywords: Aerosol exposure; Brain; Metal accumulation; Metals; Neurotoxicity; e-cigarette.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols
  • Animals
  • Brain
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems*
  • Humans
  • Metals / toxicity
  • Mice
  • Smokers


  • Aerosols
  • Metals