Tobacco smoke is a source of toxic reactive glycation products

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997 Dec 9;94(25):13915-20. doi: 10.1073/pnas.94.25.13915.


Smokers have a significantly higher risk for developing coronary and cerebrovascular disease than nonsmokers. Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are reactive, cross-linking moieties that form from the reaction of reducing sugars and the amino groups of proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids. AGEs circulate in high concentrations in the plasma of patients with diabetes or renal insufficiency and have been linked to the accelerated vasculopathy seen in patients with these diseases. Because the curing of tobacco takes place under conditions that could lead to the formation of glycation products, we examined whether tobacco and tobacco smoke could generate these reactive species that would increase AGE formation in vivo. Our findings show that reactive glycation products are present in aqueous extracts of tobacco and in tobacco smoke in a form that can rapidly react with proteins to form AGEs. This reaction can be inhibited by aminoguanidine, a known inhibitor of AGE formation. We have named these glycation products "glycotoxins." Like other known reducing sugars and reactive glycation products, glycotoxins form smoke, react with protein, exhibit a specific fluorescence when cross-linked to proteins, and are mutagenic. Glycotoxins are transferred to the serum proteins of human smokers. AGE-apolipoprotein B and serum AGE levels in cigarette smokers were significantly higher than those in nonsmokers. These results suggest that increased glycotoxin exposure may contribute to the increased incidence of atherosclerosis and high prevalence of cancer in smokers.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arteriosclerosis / etiology
  • Blood Proteins / chemistry
  • Blood Proteins / metabolism
  • Cross-Linking Reagents
  • Dimerization
  • Glycation End Products, Advanced / blood
  • Glycation End Products, Advanced / isolation & purification*
  • Glycation End Products, Advanced / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Mutagenicity Tests
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Nicotiana / chemistry*
  • Plants, Toxic*
  • Rats
  • Ribonuclease, Pancreatic / chemistry
  • Ribonuclease, Pancreatic / drug effects
  • Smoke / adverse effects*
  • Smoke / analysis
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Smoking / blood
  • Smoking / metabolism*


  • Blood Proteins
  • Cross-Linking Reagents
  • Glycation End Products, Advanced
  • Smoke
  • Ribonuclease, Pancreatic