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Circulation. 2003 Feb 4;107(4):604-11.

Nicotine strongly activates dendritic cell-mediated adaptive immunity: potential role for progression of atherosclerotic lesions.

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  • 1Department of Internal Medicine IV, Molecular Cardiology, University of Frankfurt, Germany.



Antigen-presenting cells (APCs) such as monocytes and dendritic cells (DCs) stimulate T-cell proliferation and activation in the course of adaptive immunity. This cellular interaction plays a role in the growth of atherosclerotic plaques. Nicotine has been shown to increase the growth of atherosclerotic lesions. Therefore, we investigated whether nicotine can stimulate APCs and their T cell-stimulatory capacity using human monocyte-derived DCs and murine bone marrow-derived DCs as APCs.


Nicotine dose-dependently (10(-8) to 10(-4) mol/L) induced DC expression of costimulatory molecules (ie, CD86, CD40), MHC class II, and adhesion molecules (ie, LFA-1, CD54). Moreover, nicotine induced a 7.0-fold increase in secretion of the proinflammatory T(H)1 cytokine interleukin-12 by human DCs. These effects were abrogated by the nicotinic receptor antagonist alpha-bungarotoxin and mecamylamine, respectively. The effects of nicotine were mediated in part by the phosphorylation of the PI3 kinase downstream target Akt and the mitogen-activated kinases ERK and p38 MAPK. Nicotine-stimulated APCs had a greater capacity to stimulate T-cell proliferation and cytokine secretion, as documented by mixed lymphocyte reactions and ovalbumin-specific assays with ovalbumin-transgenic DO10.11 mice. In a murine model of atherosclerosis, nicotine significantly enhanced the recruitment of DCs to atherosclerotic lesions in vivo.


Nicotine activates DCs and augments their capacity to stimulate T-cell proliferation and cytokine secretion. These effects of nicotine may contribute to its influence on the progression of atherosclerotic lesions.

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