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Cancer Res. 2007 Apr 15;67(8):3936-44.

M3 muscarinic receptor antagonists inhibit small cell lung carcinoma growth and mitogen-activated protein kinase phosphorylation induced by acetylcholine secretion.

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  • 1Division of Neuroscience, Oregon National Primate Research Center, Oregon Health and Science University, Beaverton, Oregon 97006, USA.


The importance of acetylcholine as a neurotransmitter in the nervous system is well established, but little is yet known about its recently described role as an autocrine and paracrine hormone in a wide variety of nonneuronal cells. Consistent with the expression of acetylcholine in normal lung, small cell lung carcinoma (SCLC) synthesize and secrete acetylcholine, which acts as an autocrine growth factor through both nicotinic and muscarinic cholinergic mechanisms. The purpose of this study was to determine if interruption of autocrine muscarinic cholinergic signaling has potential to inhibit SCLC growth. Muscarinic receptor (mAChR) agonists caused concentration-dependent increases in intracellular calcium and mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) and Akt phosphorylation in SCLC cell lines. The inhibitory potency of mAChR subtype-selective antagonists and small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) on acetylcholine-increased intracellular calcium and MAPK and Akt phosphorylation was consistent with mediation by M3 mAChR (M3R). Consistent with autocrine acetylcholine secretion stimulating MAPK and Akt phosphorylation, M3R antagonists and M3R siRNAs alone also caused a decrease in basal levels of MAPK and Akt phosphorylation in SCLC cell lines. Treatment of SCLC cells with M3R antagonists inhibited cell growth both in vitro and in vivo and also decreased MAPK phosphorylation in tumors in nude mice in vivo. Immunohistochemical staining of SCLC and additional cancer types showed frequent coexpression of acetylcholine and M3R. These findings suggest that M3R antagonists may be useful adjuvants for treatment of SCLC and, potentially, other cancers.

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