Introduction Acute Pancreatitis (AP) is an emerging health problem world-wide and it is a major cause of admissions for gastrointestinal disease in many countries. Amongst the more common causes (alcohol and gallstones), recent evidence has emerged indicating that smoking is an independent risk factor for AP. However, the mechanisms involved in smoking-induced AP have not been completely elucidated. This review puts together all the published evidence in literature to present the clinical and laboratory evidence relating smoking to the causation of AP.
Discussion The two main metabolites from cigarette smoke, namely nicotine and NNK are able to induce functional and histological changes within the pancreas consistent with AP. The major mechanisms involved include their action on acinar cells and zymogen secretion through pathways involving CCK and the nicotinic preganglionic receptors. Effects on the pancreatic microvasculature may be mediated through the nitric oxide pathway. There is indirect evidence to suggest that nicotine and acrolein may lead to CFTR dysfunction thereby influencing ductal secretion. However, direct evidence for this effect is needed. The effect of cigarette smoke metabolites on stellate cells and the islets warrants further investigation in the context of pathogenesis of AP.
Conclusion Using a step-wise approach, the review revisits the effects of the various metabolites of cigarette smoke on the constituents of the pancreas (exocrine, endocrine, neurohormonal, stellate cells, ductal system) and highlights their proven, and potential, mechanisms in triggering off an attack of AP.