When we smoke cigarettes, dozens of genes important for immune defense are altered in the epithelial cells that line the respiratory tract. Several of these changes likely increase the risk of bacterial infections, viruses, and inflammation. Now, UNC School of Medicine scientists report that vaping electronic cigarettes alters those same genes and hundreds more that are important for immune defense in the upper airway.
“I was really surprised by these results,” said lead researcher Ilona Jaspers, professor of pediatrics, and microbiology and immunology at UNC. “That’s why we kept going back to make sure this was accurate.”
The finding, published in the American Journal of Physiology, suggests that inhaling the vaporized flavored liquids in e-cigarettes is not without consequences, at least on the level of epithelial cell gene expression – the critical process by which our genes give rise to proteins important for various functions in cells.
The discovery cannot yet be linked to long-term health effects of e-cigarette use or the risk of diseases usually associated with long-term cigarette smoking such as cancer, emphysema, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.