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Chronic nicotine exposure could change the structure of the stomach

Different ways of chronic nicotine administration (oral, inhalation and injection) cause changes in hormones secreted by the stomach as well as changes to the top layer of the mucosa, which could lead to more effective treatments for stomach ulcers, according to a study published recently in Experimental Physiology.1

The study was conducted on 40 adult male albino rats, randomly assigned into four groups (10 rats/group). The control group received standard rat pellets and water only, the oral nicotine treated group received drinking water containing nicotine tartrate (50 μg/ml drinking water), the intra-peritoneal nicotine treated group was injected into the body cavity with nicotine tartrate dissolved in saline solution (0.5 mg/kg body weight), and the inhaled nicotine treated group was exposed for 1 hour per day to a diluted nicotine vapor diluted in saline solution (0.5 mg/kg body weight).

Treatment of all groups lasted 21 days. Levels of gastrin, ghrelin, PGE2, and histamine in serum and gastric tissue homogenates were assessed by ELISA kits. Stomach fundus was processed for histopathology and immunohistochemistry study using light and electron microscopes.

The research team found that nicotine exposure led to an increase in the secretion of hormones produced by cells in the stomach, such as gastrin and ghrelin. Both hormones are involved in stimulating peristaltic movements of the stomach, and the secretion of gastric hydrochloric acid and gastric enzymes. Prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) levels, which protect the gastric mucosa by increasing the mucous secretion, were reduced.

Nicotine administration via oral and inhalation routes also damaged the stomach lining by causingerosion and ulceration of the gastric mucosa. Nicotine also led to changes to the peptic cells which secrete pepsinogen, the enzyme responsible for partial protein digestion, and increased gastrin hormone expression in the stomach. The number of parietal cells that produce hydrochloric acid also increased. Researchers also observed inflammation of the gastric mucosa.

Co-author Dr Nasra Ayoub (King Abdulaziz University, Saudi Arabia) said: “Our findings indicate that nicotine exposure raises the level of certain stomach hormones involved in the stimulation of gastric acid such as gastrin and ghrelin, and lowers the level of protective substances such as PGE2. In turn, more gastric acid is produced, which might be the reason why many heavy smokers suffer from stomach ulcers. In future, treatments that involve reducing gastrin secretion could be used to prevent gastric ulcers in smokers.”

“Ghrelin is not only involved in the secretion of gastric acid, it also may have protective or harmful effects on the stomach. Some studies have shown that treatment with ghrelin reduces damage to the stomach lining and also helped to heal stomach ulcers. Recent studies, however, have also found that ghrelin is over-expressed in some cancer cells, so it remains unclear whether ghrelin could have a protective or carcinogenic effect on the stomach in heavy smokers. More study is required to fully understand the role of ghrelin on gastric secretions and structure in smokers,” Dr Ayoub added.


1. Ali SS, Hamed EA, Ayuob NN, Ali AS, Suliman MI. Effects of different routes of nicotine administration on gastric morphology and hormonal secretion in rats. Exp Physiol 2015.

Published on: July 30, 2015

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