Acrolein, one of the 4,000 constituents of cigarette smoke, has been found unexpectedly to cause DNA damage in the gene for the infamous tumor-suppressor p53, which is often disrupted by cancer. In particular, the pattern of DNA mutations caused by acrolein mimics what is often found in human lung cancer samples (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0607031103).
“If cigarette smoke is the weapon that causes lung cancer, then these mutations are fingerprints on the knife,” says author Moon-shong Tang of New York University School of Medicine, in Tuxedo. Tang was also involved in identifying another cigarette-smoke component that can induce such mutations: a metabolite of a polycyclic hydrocarbon called benzo[a]pyrene. Acrolein is present in cigarette smoke in levels of up to 1,000 times greater than benzo[a]pyrene.
So, if you remove acrolein from tobacco smoke, does that make for a much safer smoking experience? Is this a research question worth answering? FYI, I watched Thank You for Smoking last night, so, fresh on my mind!