Exposure to tobacco products is responsible for the majority of all human cancers. Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) were identified as early as 1989 as important regulators of cancer cells. In analogy to its function in the brain, the homomeric α7nAChR has “accelerator function” on the most common human cancers by stimulating the synthesis and release of excitatory neurotransmitters (serotonin in small cell lung cancer, noradrenaline/adrenaline in most other cancers) that drive cell proliferation, migration, angiogenesis, neurogenesis and metastasis while inhibiting apoptosis. These effects are not only caused by α7nAChRs expressed in cancer cells but also by α7nAChRs in ganglia and nerves of the sympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system that release noradrenaline/adrenaline into the tumor environment. In the nervous system, α7nAChR protein undergoes paradoxical upregulation without concomitant desensitization upon chronic exposure to nicotine. The same phenomenon has been reported for α7nAChR expressed in cancer cells of the lungs and pancreas where chronic nicotine or nicotine-derived nitrosamines upregulated the receptor protein, resulting in hyperactivity of its effectors. Strategies that target the α7nAChR for cancer intervention are highly promising but should aim to reduce signaling downstream of the receptor rather than blocking the receptor because of its numerous vital functions in the mammalian organism.
Keywords: α7nAChR, neurotransmitter, cancer regulation, tobacco, apoptosis, autonomic nervous system, adrenaline, receptor protein, SCLC, adenocarcinoma
Rights & PermissionsPrintExport