Brain death following ingestion of E-cigarette liquid nicotine refill solution

Maenia Scarpino, Manuela Bonizzoli, Cecilia Lanzi, Giovanni Lanzo, Chiara Lazzeri, Giovanni Cianchi, Francesco Gambassi, Francesco Lolli, Antonello Grippo

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review


Background: The use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) is very common worldwide. To date, an increase of nicotine intoxication following an accidental or intentional ingestion/injection of refill solution (e-liquid) has been detected. Case: A 23-year-old man presented with sudden loss of consciousness, bradycardia, and respiratory muscle paralysis after intentional ingestion of e-liquid. Early clinical data, brain computed tomography, and neurophysiological tests (electroencephalogram [EEG] and somatosensory evoked potentials [SEPs]) did not show features with a poor neurological prognostic meaning of an hypoxic encephalopathy. After 4 days, the patient showed bilateral loss of the pupillary reflex, and severe and cytotoxic edema was detected on brain magnetic resonance imaging. SEPs showed a bilateral loss of cortical responses and EEG a suppressed pattern. Nine days after the onset of coma, the patient evolved toward brain death (BD). Discussion: Because nicotine intoxication might cause respiratory muscle paralysis, without cardiac arrest (CA), it would be important to understand the mechanisms underlying brain damage and to take into account that the current neurological prognostic evidence for hypoxic–ischemic encephalopathy, based on data from patients who all experienced CA may not be reliable. Reporting cases of nicotine intoxication through e-liquid is relevant in order to improve regulatory parameters for e-liquid sale.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBrain and Behavior
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Jul 2020


  • brain death
  • cotinine
  • e-liquid
  • nicotine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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