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Distribution, quantification and toxicity of cinnamaldehyde in electronic cigarette refill fluids and aerosols
  1. Rachel Z Behar1,2,3,
  2. Wentai Luo4,
  3. Sabrina C Lin2,3,
  4. Yuhuan Wang2,3,
  5. Jackelyn Valle2,3,
  6. James F Pankow4,
  7. Prue Talbot2,3
  1. 1Cell Molecular and Developmental Biology Graduate Program, University of California, Riverside, California, USA
  2. 2UCR Stem Cell Center, University of California, Riverside, California, USA
  3. 3Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, University of California, Riverside, California, USA
  4. 4Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Prue Talbot, Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521, USA; talbot{at}


Objective The aim of this study was to evaluate the distribution, concentration and toxicity of cinnamaldehyde in electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) refill fluids and aerosols.

Methods The distribution and concentration of cinnamaldehyde were determined in 39 e-cigarette refill fluids plus 6 duplicates using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GC/MS). A cinnamaldehyde toxicity profile was established for embryonic and adult cells using a live cell imaging assay, immunocytochemistry, the comet assay and a recovery assay.

Results Twenty of the 39 refill fluids contained cinnamaldehyde at concentrations that are cytotoxic to human embryonic and lung cells in the MTT assay. Cinnamon Ceylon aerosol produced in a cartomizer-style e-cigarette was cytotoxic. Cinnamon Ceylon aerosols and refill fluid aerosols (80% propylene glycol or cinnamaldehyde/propylene glycol) made using a tank/boxmod e-cigarette were more cytotoxic at 5 V than 3 V. Using GC/MS, aerosols produced at 5 V contained 10 additional peaks not present in aerosol generated at 3 V. One of these, 2,3-butandione (diacetyl), was confirmed with an authentic standard. Cinnamaldehyde depolymerised microtubules in human pulmonary fibroblasts. At concentrations that produced no effect in the MTT assay, cinnamaldehyde decreased growth, attachment and spreading; altered cell morphology and motility; increased DNA strand breaks; and increased cell death. At the MTT IC50 concentration, lung cells were unable to recover from cinnamaldehyde after 2 hours of treatment, whereas embryonic cells recovered after 8 hours.

Conclusions Cinnamaldehyde-containing refill fluids and aerosols are cytotoxic, genotoxic and low concentrations adversely affect cell processes and survival. These data indicate that cinnamaldehyde in e-cigarette refill fluids/aerosols may impair homeostasis in the respiratory system.

  • Electronic nicotine delivery devices
  • Toxicology
  • Global health

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  • Contributors PT, JFP and RZB formed the conception and design of this study. Data were collected and interpreted by RZB, WL, SCL, YW, JV, JFP and PT. RZB, WL, SCL, JFP and PT involved in data analysis and writing of the manuscript. RZB, WL, YW and JV performed data processing and sample preparation.

  • Funding This work was supported by grants from the NIH (R01DA036493 and R21DA037365) to PT/JFP and a Core Facility grant from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (NE-A0005A-1E) to PT. RZB was supported by an NIH NRSA Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (5F31HL116121-03).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement All data will be provided by request to the senior author.

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