Nicotine induces oral dysplastic keratinocyte migrationviafatty acid synthase-dependent epidermal growth factor receptor activation

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Despite advances in diagnostic and therapeutic management, oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) patient survival rates have remained relatively unchanged. Thus, identifying early triggers of malignant progression is critical to prevent OSCC development. Traditionally, OSCC initiation is elicited by the frequent and direct exposure to multiple tobacco-derived carcinogens, and not by the nicotine contained in tobacco products. However, other nicotine-containing products, especially the increasingly popular electronic cigarettes (e-cigs), have unknown effects on the progression of undiagnosed tobacco-induced oral premalignant lesions, specifically in regard to the effects of nicotine. Overexpression of fatty acid synthase (FASN), a key hepatic de novo lipogenic enzyme, is linked to poor OSCC patient survival. Nicotine upregulates hepatic FASN, but whether this response occurs in oral dysplastic keratinocytes is unknown. We hypothesized that in oral dysplastic keratinocytes, nicotine triggers a migratory phenotype through FASN-dependent epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) activation, a common pro-oncogenic event supporting oral carcinogenesis. We report that in oral dysplastic cells, nicotine markedly upregulates FASN leading to FASN-dependent EGFR activation and increased cell migration. These results raise potential concerns about e-cig safety, especially when used by former tobacco smokers with occult oral premalignant lesions where nicotine could trigger oncogenic signals commonly associated with malignant progression.

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