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Vaping additives damage a vital membrane in the lungs, researchers find




Vaping additives damage a vital membrane in the lungs, researchers find

Credit: CC0 Public domain

The health risks associated with the consumption of tobacco and cannabis products are now well known. Much less understood are the risks associated with vaping, especially flavored products popular with young adults.

It’s becoming an increasingly pressing problem: Statistics Canada says one in ten Canadians aged 20 to 24 and one in fifteen Canadians aged 15 to 19 will have vaped every day by 2022.

To write in the news LangmuirConcordia researchers show how the e-cigarette additive tocopherol – an organic compound better known as vitamin E – and tocopherol acetate can damage the lungs. The study adds to the growing body of literature on what has become known as lung injury associated with electronic cigarettes or vaping (EVALI).

When heated and inhaled, the compound in lung surfactant integrates a nanoscopically thin lipid-protein membrane covering the surface of the alveoli that regulates oxygen-carbon dioxide gas exchange and stabilizes lung surface tension during breathing.

Molecular level models

The study was led by Christine DeWolf, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and co-founder of the Center for NanoScience Research. The researchers used one-molecule-thick model membranes, called Langmuir films, to simulate the expansion and compression of the lung surfactant. They then added vitamin E, which is structurally similar to the lipids found in the membrane.

They used various observation techniques, including microscopy, X-ray diffraction and X-ray reflectivity. The researchers observed how the presence of the additive changed the surfactant’s properties and tracked changes as they added more, just as a real surfactant would build up and trap the compound in the lungs.

According to new research, vape additives damage a vital membrane in the lungs

Panagiota Taktikakis (left) and Christine DeWolf. Credit: Concordia University

“We can see that the presence of vitamin E changes the functional properties of the surfactant,” DeWolf explains.

“Oxygen is exchanged for carbon dioxide through the surfactant in the lungs, so if the properties of the surfactant change, the ability to exchange gas can also change. And if the surface tension changes, that affects breathing. So combined These changes make breathing more difficult. We believe this is the molecular basis contributing to the shortness of breath and reduced oxygen levels seen in people suffering from EVALI.”

Young people are especially at risk

This article is the first of a larger project looking at the components of vaping solutions that deliver nicotine or cannabinoids to users.

“Many of the components in these solutions have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for other uses,” says DeWolf. “But the high heating rates required to vaporize these components can cause further chemical reactions to occur. The components actually inhaled may not be those in the original e-liquid.”

MSc student Panagiota Taktikakis is the lead author of the article. “Understanding the impact of vape additives on lung surfactants is critical, especially for younger generations who are more influenced by vaping trends,” she adds.

“This research reveals critical insights into the potential short- and long-term consequences of vaping, empowering young people to make informed choices about their health and well-being.”

The researchers say they hope their work can be used to educate regulators about the risks of certain carrier substances and whether the additives they contain can inhibit lung function.

More information:
Panagiota Taktikakis et al., Understanding vapor additive retention in the lungs: model disruption of the lung surfactant membrane by vitamin E and vitamin E acetate, Langmuir (2024). DOI: 10.1021/acs.langmuir.3c02952

Provided by Concordia University

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