New study shows how vaping affects immune cell activity

E-cigarettes render neutrophils immobile and unable to defend the body against threats adequately.
Jijo Malayil
young person vaping
Vaping affects immune cell activity


The usage of vaping or e-cigarettes continues to witness a rise in popularity worldwide. This trend poses significant risks to its users, including lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Now, a study has revealed that e-cigarette vapor may prevent frontline immune cells, neutrophils, from functioning normally, as even a little smoke exposure lowers cell activity.

The study by researchers from the University of Birmingham evaluated the effects of direct exposure to nicotine-containing and nicotine-free e-cigarette vapor on the function of human neutrophils. 

The results are significant since earlier studies have demonstrated that lung harm from smoking might result from neutrophil destruction. In a healthy state, neutrophils typically defend the lungs by traveling from the blood to the area of potential damage before performing a number of preventive tasks.

"E-cigarettes are a proven, lower-harm, tool to help smokers quit smoking but our data adds to current evidence that e-cigarettes are not harmless and highlights the need to fund longer-term studies in vapers," said Dr. Aaron Scott, associate professor in Respiratory Science at the University of Birmingham, in a statement. 

Renders neutrophils immobile

The study was based on 40 samples from people who had never smoked or vaped. After that, the scientists subjected blood-derived neutrophils to 40 puffs of unflavored vape, which prior research has shown to be a minimal daily exposure. Half of the samples were treated with nicotine-containing vapor, while the other half were exposed to nicotine-free substitutes.

The tests' findings demonstrated that while the neutrophils in the nicotine and non-nicotine groups were still alive, they were immobile and unable to defend the body against threats adequately. 

The researchers discovered that while the cells are still alive after brief, low-level exposure to e-cigarette vapor, they are no longer able to move as efficiently and cannot perform their usual defensive roles. It's interesting to note that vapor from e-liquids without nicotine likewise had the same drawbacks as vapor from e-liquids with nicotine. 

"The observed impact that e-cigarette vapor had on their mobility is therefore of significant concern, and if this were to happen in the body would make those who regularly use e-cigarettes at greater risk of respiratory diseases," said David Thickett, professor in Respiratory Medicine at the University of Birmingham, clinical lead for the University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB) and a co-author of the study.

Further damages

Additional research with neutrophils exposed to e-cigarette vapor suggests that the inhibition of a cell's normal activity is caused by a microfilament that has accumulated inside the cell and is unable to correctly reorganize itself.

Actin is often present inside cells as tiny filaments that may be rearranged into a network to assist a cell in altering its form. Neutrophils employ this function to migrate toward and surround dangers in order to neutralize them.

Whether the e-cigarette vapor included nicotine or not, the scientists found that the neutrophils exposed to it had large amounts of the filament F-actin. The immune cells were less able to move and perform normally as a result of the F-actin's buildup.

According to the team, because of the significant role that neutrophils play in tissue damage, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and aging, vaping's ability to reduce neutrophil activity without respect to nicotine may have long-term health effects.

The details regarding the study are published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

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