Receptor-mediated tobacco toxicity: Acceleration of sequential expression of α5 and α7 nicotinic receptor subunits in oral keratinocytes exposed to cigarette smoke

Juan Arredondo, Alexander I. Chernyavsky, David L. Jolkovsky, Kent E Pinkerton, Sergei A. Grando

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

66 Scopus citations


Tobacco products and nicotine alter the cell cycle and lead to squamatization of oral keratinocytes (KCs) and squamous cell carcinoma. Activation of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) elicits Ca2+ influx that varies in magnitude between different nAChR subtypes. Normal differentiation of KCs is associated with sequential expression of the nAChR subtypes with increasing Ca2+ permeability, such as α5-containing α3 nAChR and α7 nAChR. Exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) or an equivalent concentration of nicotine accelerated by severalfold the α5 and α7 expression in KCs, which could be abolished by mecamylamine and α-bungarotoxin with different efficacies, suggesting the following sequence of autoregulation of the expression of nAChR subtypes: α3(β2/β4) > α3(β2/β4)α5 > α7 > α7. This conjecture was corroborated by results of quantitative assays of subunit mRNA and protein levels, using nAChR-specific pharmacologic antagonists and small interfering RNAs. The genomic effects of ETS and nicotine involved the transcription factor GATA-2 that showed a multifold increase in quantity and activity in exposed KCs. Using protein kinase inhibitors and dominant negative and constitutively active constructs, we characterized the principal signaling cascades mediating a switch in the nAChR subtype. Cumulative results indicated that the α3(β2/β4) to α3(β2/β4)α5 nAChR transition predominantly involved protein kinase C, α3(β2/β4)α5 to α7 nAChR transition -Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II and p38 MAPK, and α7 self-up-regulation - the p38 MAPK/Akt pathway, and JAK-2. These results provide a mechanistic insight into the genomic effects of ETS and nicotine on KCs and characterize signaling pathways mediating autoregulation of stepwise overexpression of nAChR subtypes with increasing Ca2+ permeability in exposed cells. These observations have salient clinical implications, because a switch in the nAChR subunit composition can bring about a corresponding switch in receptor function, leading to profound pathobiologic effects observed in KCs exposed to tobacco products.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1356-1368
Number of pages13
JournalFASEB Journal
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2008



  • Akt
  • GATA-2
  • JAK-2
  • Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors
  • p38
  • PKC

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology

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