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Dev Biol 2022 Jan 01;481:14-29. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2021.09.004.
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E-liquids and vanillin flavoring disrupts retinoic acid signaling and causes craniofacial defects in Xenopus embryos.

Dickinson AJG , Turner SD , Wahl S , Kennedy AE , Wyatt BH , Howton DA .

Environmental teratogens such as smoking are known risk factors for developmental disorders such as cleft palate. While smoking rates have declined, a new type of smoking, called vaping is on the rise. Vaping is the use of e-cigarettes to vaporize and inhale an e-liquid containing nicotine and food-like flavors. There is the potential that, like smoking, vaping could also pose a danger to the developing human. Rather than waiting for epidemiological and mammalian studies, we have turned to an aquatic developmental model, Xenopus laevis, to more quickly assess whether e-liquids contain teratogens that could lead to craniofacial malformations. Xenopus, like zebrafish, has the benefit of being a well-established developmental model and has also been effective in predicting whether a chemical could be a teratogen. We have determined that embryonic exposure to dessert flavored e-liquids can cause craniofacial abnormalities, including an orofacial cleft in Xenopus. To better understand the underlying mechanisms contributing to these defects, transcriptomic analysis of the facial tissues of embryos exposed to a representative dessert flavored e-liquid vapor extract was performed. Analysis of differentially expressed genes in these embryos revealed several genes associated with retinoic acid metabolism or the signaling pathway. Consistently, retinoic acid receptor inhibition phenocopied the craniofacial defects as those embryos exposed to the vapor extract of the e-liquid. Such malformations also correlated with a group of common differentially expressed genes, two of which are associated with midface birth defects in humans. Further, e-liquid exposure sensitized embryos to forming craniofacial malformations when they already had depressed retinoic acid signaling. Moreover, 13-cis-retinoic acid treatment could significantly reduce the e-liquid induced malformation in the midface. Such results suggest the possibility of an interaction between retinoic acid signaling and e-liquid exposure. One of the most popular and concentrated flavoring chemicals in dessert flavored e-liquids is vanillin. Xenopus embryos exposed to this chemical closely resembled embryos exposed to dessert-like e-liquids and a retinoic acid receptor antagonist. In summary, we determined that e-liquid chemicals, in particular vanillin, can cause craniofacial defects potentially by dysregulating retinoic acid signaling. This work warrants the evaluation of vanillin and other such flavoring additives in e-liquids on mammalian development.

PubMed ID: 34543654
PMC ID: PMC8665092
Article link: Dev Biol
Grant support: [+]

Species referenced: Xenopus laevis
Genes referenced: aldh1a2 crabp1 crabp2 cyp1a1 cyp26c1 rarg
GO keywords: response to toxic substance [+]

Disease Ontology terms: orofacial cleft [+]

Article Images: [+] show captions
References [+] :
Abraham, Vanillin, a potential agent for the treatment of sickle cell anemia. 1991, Pubmed