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Acrolein Exposure in U.S. Tobacco Smokers and Non-Tobacco Users: NHANES 2005–2006
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  • Alternative Title:
    Environ Health Perspect
  • Description:

    Acrolein is a highly reactive α,β unsaturated aldehyde and respiratory irritant. Acrolein is formed during combustion (e.g., burning tobacco or biomass), during high-temperature cooking of foods, and in vivo as a product of oxidative stress and polyamine metabolism. No biomonitoring reference data have been reported to characterize acrolein exposure for the U.S. population.


    Our goals were to a) evaluate two acrolein metabolites in urine—N-acetyl-S-(3-hydroxypropyl)-l-cysteine (3HPMA) and N-acetyl-S-(2-carboxyethyl)-l-cysteine (CEMA)—as biomarkers of exposure to acrolein for the U.S. population by age, sex, race, and smoking status; and b) assess tobacco smoke as a predictor of acrolein exposure.


    We analyzed urine from National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 2005–2006) participants ≥ 12 years old (n = 2,866) for 3HPMA and CEMA using ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography coupled with electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry (UPLC/ESI-MSMS). Sample-weighted linear regression models stratified for non-tobacco users versus tobacco smokers (as defined by serum cotinine and self-report) characterized the association of urinary 3HPMA and CEMA with tobacco smoke exposure, adjusting for urinary creatinine, sex, age, and race/ethnicity.


    3HPMA and CEMA levels were higher among tobacco smokers (cigarettes, cigars, and pipe users) than among non-tobacco users. The median 3HPMA levels for tobacco smokers and non-tobacco users were 1,089 and 219 μg/g creatinine, respectively. Similarly, median CEMA levels were 203 μg/g creatinine for tobacco smokers and 78.8 μg/g creatinine for non-tobacco users. Regression analysis showed that serum cotinine was a significant positive predictor (p < 0.0001) of both 3HPMA and CEMA among tobacco smokers.


    Tobacco smoke was a significant predictor of acrolein exposure in the U.S. population.


    Alwis KU, deCastro BR, Morrow JC, Blount BC. 2015. Acrolein exposure in U.S. tobacco smokers and non-tobacco users: NHANES 2005–2006. Environ Health Perspect 123:1302–1308; http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1409251

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