Aqueous cigarette tar extracts disrupt corticogenesis from human embryonic stem cells in vitro

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Cigarette butts are the most common form of litter in the world, and approximately 4.5 trillion smoked cigarettes are discarded every year worldwide. Cigarette butts contain over 4000 chemicals, many of which are known to have neurotoxic effects. Stem cell neuronal differentiation provides an excellent cellular model with which to examine the impact of aqueous cigarette tar extracts (ACTEs) on neurodevelopment.


We have developed a neurosphere-based stem cell neuronal differentiation protocol that can recapitulate corticogenesis and produce cell types that are similar to upper and lower layer cortical projection neurons found in the germinal zone of the developing human cortex. In this study, ACTEs were generated from smoked cigarette butts and then applied at different concentrations to neuronal progenitors and cortical neurons derived from human embryonic stem cells.


ACTEs reduced the expression of the cortical neuronal progenitor markers pax6, tbr2, and neuroD and decreased the number of cortical layer neurons (tbr1, satb2, foxp2, and brn2) after exposure to as low as 1.87% of the extract from one smoked cigarette butt. Furthermore, our results showed that ACTEs increased reactive oxygen species (ROS) production in cortical neurons, which caused a substantial loss of the synaptic proteins PSD95, synaptophysin, vesicular glutamate transporter1 (vGlut1), and the extracellular matrix molecule reelin; all of those molecules are important for the maintenance of cortical neuron identity and activity.


ACTEs from smoked cigarettes have significant effects on cortical neuron development and neurodegeneration. The stem cell neuronal differentiation model holds great promise as a potentially powerful tool for the assessment of ACTEs on neurotoxicity.

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