Low-dose nicotine activates egfr signaling via α5-nAChR and promotes lung adenocarcinoma progression

Mong Lien Wang, Yi Fan Hsu, Chih Hsuan Liu, Ya Ling Kuo, Yi Chen Chen, Yi Chen Yeh, Hsiang Ling Ho, Yu Chung Wu, Teh Ying Chou, Cheng Wen Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Nicotine in tobacco smoke is considered carcinogenic in several malignancies including lung cancer. The high incidence of lung adenocarcinoma (LAC) in non-smokers, however, remains unexplained. Although LAC has long been less associated with smoking behavior based on previous epidemiological correlation studies, the effect of environmental smoke contributing to low-dose nicotine exposure in non-smoking population could be underestimated. Here we provide experimental evidence of how low-dose nicotine promotes LAC growth in vitro and in vivo. Screening of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunits in lung cancer cell lines demonstrated a particularly high expression level of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunit α5 (α 5-nAChR) in LAC cell lines. Clinical specimen analysis revealed up-regulation of α 5-nAChR in LAC tumor tissues compared to non-tumor counterparts. In LAC cell lines α 5-nAChR interacts with epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), positively regulates EGFR pathway, enhances the expression of epithelial-mesenchymal transition markers, and is essential for low-dose nicotine-induced EGFR phosphorylation. Functionally, low-dose nicotine requires α 5-nAChR to enhance cell migration, invasion, and proliferation. Knockdown of α 5-nAChR inhibits the xenograft tumor growth of LAC. Clinical analysis indicated that high level of tumor α 5-nAChR is correlated with poor survival rates of LAC patients, particularly in those expressing wild-type EGFR. Our data identified α 5-nAChR as an essential mediator for low-dose nicotine-dependent LAC progression possibly through signaling crosstalk with EGFR, supporting the involvement of environmental smoke in tumor progression in LAC patients.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6829
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalInternational journal of molecular sciences
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020


  • EGFR
  • Environmental smoke
  • Lung adenocarcinoma
  • Nicotine
  • α 5-nAChR

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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