The research centers on a compound known as NNK, which is common in tobacco. NNK is a procarinogen, a chemical substance which becomes carcinogenic when it is altered by the metabolic process of the body.
Unlike alcohol or drug abuse NNK does not appear to harm brain cells directly, however, the research team believe it may cause neuroinflamation, a condition which leads to disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis.
To prove if such a link exists the team conducted two types of tests, one outside of a living host in glass and one in laboratory mice. The team used blot analysis techniques which showed that the introduction of NNK resulted in a clear increase in proinflammatory signaling proteins, proinflammatory effector proteins and other stress related proteins. Increased levels of proinflammatory cytokines, which act as molecular messengers between cells, were also detected.
This shows that NNK provokes an exaggerated response from the brain's immune cells, known as microglia. Microglia cells act as 'destroyers' for the brain by attacking damaged or unhealthy cells. However, when provoked by NNK these cells start to attack healthy brain cells rather than the unhealthy cells they are supposed to attack.
"Our findings prove that tobacco compound NNK can activate microglia significantly which subsequently harms the nerve cells," said Basu.
MEDICA.de; Source: Indian National Brain Research Center