Report: Tobacco Smoke Can Worsen Pain for SCI & MS Patients

There may be another reason to encourage your clients with spinal cord injuries (SCI) or multiple sclerosis (MS) to stop smoking and to avoid inhaling second-hand smoke.

A new study from researchers at Purdue University says a neurotoxin called acrolein, which is found in tobacco smoke, automotive exhaust and other forms of air pollution, has been shown to accumulate in the bodies of mice who were exposed to cigarette smoke.

The mice were exposed to the equivalent of 12 cigarettes per day for three weeks. Researchers later found acrolein had built up in the mice's urine and spinal cord tissues - and in amounts "known to have pathological implications," a Purdue news announcement said.

Riyi Shi, a professor in Purdue's department of basic medical sciences, college of veterinary medicine and Weldon School of biomechanical engineering, said, "The data indicated that acrolein is absorbed into the circulatory system and some enters the nervous system. It is expected that these findings may facilitate further studies to probe the pathological role of acrolein in the nervous system resulting from smoke and other external sources through long and short term, both active and passive exposure."

Acrolein is produced when nerve cells are damaged, the Purdue announcement said. In patients with SCI or MS, nerve fibers are damaged by acrolein.

"It is already known that smoking can increase pain for people with spinal cord injury and worsen the condition of multiple sclerosis, but we don't know exactly why," Shi said in the announcement. "I am saying that acrolein might be the key culprit here and that inhaled acrolein could intensify multiple sclerosis and increase pain sensation."

Shi's co-authors of the report were Melissa Tully, a graduate student at Purdue and the Indiana University School of Medicine; and Purdue graduate students Lingxing Zheng, Glen Acosta and Ran Tian. The Indiana State Department of Health, the National Institutes of Health, and an Indiana CTSI CBR/CTR Pilot Program Grant are funding the ongoing research.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at

Referrals and Prescriptions podcast