Alpha5 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor mediates nicotine-induced HIF-1α and VEGF expression in non-small cell lung cancer

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By binding to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), nicotine induces the proliferation and apoptosis of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Previous studies have indicated that α5-nAChR is highly associated with lung cancer risk and nicotine dependence. However, the mechanisms through which α5-nAChRs may influence lung carcinogenesis are far from clear. In the present study, we investigated the roles of α5-nAChR in the nicotine-induced expression of hypoxia-inducible factor-1α (HIF-1α) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). Immunohistochemistry was used to detect the expression of α5-nAChR and HIF-1α in 60 specimens of lung cancer and para-carcinoma tissue. The correlations between the expression levels of α5-nAChR and HIF-1α and other clinicopathological data were analyzed. In a cell line that highly expressed α5-nAChR, the loss of α5-nAChR function by siRNA was used to study whether α5-nAChR is involved in the nicotine-induced expression of HIF-1α and VEGF through the activation of the ERK1/2 and PI3K/Akt signaling pathways. Cell growth was detected using the cell counting kit-8 (CCK-8). α5-nAChR (78.3%) and HIF-1α (88.3%) were both overexpressed in NSCLC, and their expression levels were found to be correlated with each other (P < 0.05). In the A549 cell line, α5-nAChR and HIF-1α were found to be expressed under normal conditions, and their expression levels were significantly increased in response to nicotine treatment. The silencing of α5-nAChR significantly inhibited the nicotine-induced cell proliferation compared with the control group and attenuated the nicotine-induced upregulation of HIF-1α and VEGF, and these effects required the cooperation of the ERK1/2 and PI3K/Akt signaling pathways. These results show that the α5-nAChR/HIF-1α/VEGF axis is involved in nicotine-induced tumor cell proliferation, which suggests that α5-nAChR may serve as a potential anticancer target in nicotine-associated lung cancer.

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