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Acrolein is a highly toxic electrophile that participates in many diseases, yet efforts to delineate its precise mechanistic contributions to specific conditions are complicated by its wide distribution within human environments. This Perspective develops the proposal that due to its mixed status as environmental pollutant, metabolic byproduct, and endotoxicant which forms via ubiquitous pathophysiological processes, many diseases likely involve acrolein released from multiple sources. Although the category boundaries are indistinct, at least four identifiable exposure scenarios are identifiable. First, in some syndromes, such as those accompanying chronic or acute intoxication with smoke, whatever role acrolein plays in disease pathogenesis mainly traces to exogenous sources such as the combustion of tobacco or other organic matter. A second exposure category involves xenobiotics that undergo metabolism within the body to release acrolein. Still other health conditions, however, involve acrolein that forms via several endogenous pathways, some of which are activated upon intoxication with xenobiotics (i.e., Exposure Category 3), while still others accompany direct physical trauma to body tissues (Exposure Category 4). Further complicating efforts to clarify the role of endogenous acrolein in human disease is the likelihood that many such syndromes are complex phenomena that resemble "chemical mixture exposures" by involving multiple toxic substances simultaneously. This Perspective contends that while recent decades have witnessed much progress in describing the deleterious effects of acrolein at the cellular and molecular levels, more work is needed to define the contributions of different acrolein sources to "real-world" health conditions in human subjects. © 2016 American Chemical Society
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