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J Surg Res. 2012 Nov;178(1):233-41. doi: 10.1016/j.jss.2011.12.029. Epub 2012 Mar 10.

Nicotine stimulates proliferation and inhibits apoptosis in colon cancer cell lines through activation of survival pathways.

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Department of Surgery Pietro Valdoni, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy.



Colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related death throughout the world, and the risk to develop this malignant disease seems to be associated with long-term cigarette smoking. Nicotine, one of the major components of cigarette smoking, can stimulate cell proliferation and suppress apoptosis both in normal cells and in several human cancer cell lines derived from various organs. However, although nicotine appears to have a role in stimulating cell proliferation of colon cancer cells, there is no information on its role in inhibiting apoptosis in these cells.


Human colorectal cancer cell lines Caco-2 and HCT-8 were treated with 1 μM nicotine alone or in combination with 1 μM α-BTX in complete or in serum free medium. Cell proliferation and apoptosis were determined by cell count performed with a cell counter and by cytofluorimetric assay respectively. PI3K/Akt and PKC/ERK1/2 pathways, survivin, and P-Bcl2 (Ser70) were investigated by Western blot analysis.


Nicotine induced an increase in cell proliferation and a decrease of apoptosis in Caco-2 and HCT-8 cells. Both cell growth and apoptosis appear to be mediated by α7-nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, since treatment with α-Bungarotoxin inhibited these processes. Nicotine induced a statistically significant increase in the expression of PI3K and in P-Akt/Akt ratio as well as in the expression of PKC, ERK1/2, survivin, and P-Bcl2 (Ser70) in both cell lines.


Nicotine, contained in cigarette smoking, could participate in colon cancer development and progression by stimulating cell proliferation and suppressing physiological apoptosis.

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