Using an electronic vaping device causes the same changes in gene regulation as cigarettes do, according to a study, potentially raising an individual's risk of developing severe illnesses, including cancer.
"Our study, for the first time, investigates the biological effects of vaping in adult e-cigarette users, while simultaneously accounting for their past smoking exposure," said corresponding study author Ahmad Besaratinia.
Besaratinia, a professor of population and public health sciences at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, said the study examined alterations in gene regulation in the blood cells of 82 healthy adults in the following groups:
- Vapers with and without a prior history of smoking.
- People who exclusively smoke cigarettes.
- A control group of "never-smokers" and "never-vapers."
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Vaping, similar to smoking, is tied to the dysregulation of mitochondrial genes and disruption of molecular pathways that affect one's inflammatory response and immunity, Besaratinia said.
"We found that more than 80% of gene dysregulation in vapers correlated with the intensity and duration of current vaping," he said. "Whereas none of the detected gene dysregulation in vapers correlated to their prior [cigarette] smoking intensity or duration."
Mitochondria are vital to a person's inflammation and immune responses, he added.
"When mitochondria become dysfunctional, they release key molecules," Besaratinia said. "The released molecules can function as signals for the immune system, triggering an immune response that leads to inflammation, which is not only important for maintaining health but also plays a critical role in the development of various diseases, such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, metabolic diseases and cancer."
Electronic cigarette usage has been linked to the same forms of cancer-related changes to an individual's oral tissue and genome, according to previous research by Besaratinia and his team.
"Given the popularity of e-cigarettes among young never-smokers, our findings will be of importance to the regulatory agencies," he said. "To protect public health, these agencies are in urgent need of scientific evidence to inform the regulation of the manufacture, distribution, and marketing of e-cigarettes."
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The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports on Nov. 23.