Mouse-Brained Research

Posted 10th July 2019 by Dave Cross
A research team at the University of California has tested Vuse electronic cigarettes and claims it caused stress-induced mitochondrial hyperfusion (SIMH) in “specialised cells”. The terrible paper contains glaring flaws and was roundly attacked following publication because it did nothing more than bathe mouse stem cells in strong eliquid.

At the start, the team made the fatuous claim that vape products are “often targeted to youth and pregnant women”. It continues: “Although originally introduced as safer or smoking cessation replacements, recent studies have shown that [electronic cigarettes] indeed cause various forms of toxicity.”

Lead author Prue Talbot, a professor in the Department of Molecular, Cell and Systems Biology, said: "SIMH is a protective, survival response. Our data show that exposure of stem cells to e-liquids, aerosols, or nicotine produces a response that leads to SIMH."

Atena Zahedi, who received her doctoral degree in bioengineering this year, also worked on the study: “Although originally introduced as safer, ECs, such as Vuse and JUUL, are not harmless. Even short-term exposure can stress cells in a manner that may lead, with chronic use, to cell death or disease. Our observations are likely to pertain to any product containing nicotine."

"The high levels of nicotine in ECs lead to a nicotine flooding of special receptors in the neural stem cell membrane. Nicotine binds to these receptors, causing them to open up. Calcium and other ions begin to enter the cell. Eventually, a calcium overload follows."

"If the nicotine stress persists, SIMH collapses, the neural stem cells get damaged and could eventually die. If that happens, no more specialized cells -- astrocytes and neurons, for example -- can be produced from stem cells."

Talbot believes this is important when considering teens and pregnant women: "Their brains are in a critical developmental stage. Nicotine exposure during prenatal or adolescent development can affect the brain in multiple ways that may impair memory, learning, and cognition. Furthermore, addiction and dependence on nicotine in youth are pressing concerns. It's worth stressing that it is nicotine that is doing damage to neural stem cells and their mitochondria. We should be concerned about this, given that nicotine is now widely available in ECs and their refill fluids."

Some commentators didn’t mince their words and called Prue Talbot “an idiot”.

Charles Gardner, PhD, said: "...often targeted to youth and pregnant mothers"? Imagine the evil intent these people have to assume if they believe such nonsense. It's a childlike view of good and evil.

Dr Karl Snæ said: “This is hilarious (not), use mouse NCS, bathe them in 44 mg/mL nicotine for 25 hours - yes they had a timer on it! Then scary tales of effect on humans and pregnant mothers - really stupid and harmful BS

Then, he asked Atena Zahedi directly: “Did you try Chocolate, coffee, cigarette smoke or even spinach for any comparison?”

Dr Snæ then pointed out the shortcomings in extrapolating the “results” to humans and their foetuses, highlighting that bathing mouse cells in a concentrated nicotine bath for 24 hours has very little relevance for humans.

“At first thought this was pure joke, but are you serious?”

Manuel Peitsch, Chief Scientific Officer at Philip Morris Int., commented: “Unfortunately irrelevant to ecig toxicology: Neural stem cells are not directly exposed to e-liquids or vapour. Nicotine concentrations are orders of magnitude above maximum human exposure from PK data. Remember the law of toxicology (Paracelsus).”


  • “Mitochondrial Stress Response in Neural Stem Cells Exposed to Electronic Cigarettes” by Zahedi, Phandthong, Chaili, Leung, Omaiye, and Talbot – [link]
 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker