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Biochem Pharmacol. 1995 Dec 22;50(12):2001-8.

Up-regulation of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors following chronic exposure of rats to mainstream cigarette smoke or alpha 4 beta 2 receptors to nicotine.

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Integrated Toxicology Program, Duke University, Durham, NC 27705, USA.


Smokers are reported to have a higher density of central nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) that non-smokers at autopsy. Whether this increased receptor density is a response to smoking or a result of genetic variability is not known. While sub-chronic treatment of rats and mice with nicotine results in upregulation of central nAChRs, changes in receptor density in response to cigarette smoke have not been studied previously. In this study, male Sprague-Dawley rats were exposed nose-only for 13 weeks to mainstream cigarette smoke followed by assessment of [3H]nicotine binding in five brain regions of smoke- and sham-exposed animals. In smoke-exposed animals, there was a significant increase in nAChR density in the cortex, striatum, and cerebellum (35, 25, and 31% increases, respectively), while there was no significant change in receptor density in the thalamus and hippocampus. Smoke exposure did not alter markedly the affinity of the receptor for nicotine in these brain regions. Furthermore, up-regulation of nAChRs did not alter the biphasic binding properties by which nicotine binds to its receptor. There were no changes in the association (fast phase) or isomerization (slow phase) rate constants, and the percent contribution of slow and fast phase binding to nAChRs was not altered in the up-regulated receptor population compared with control. Similar results were observed following chronic nicotine exposure of cultured cortical cells from fetal rat brain or cells transfected with the alpha 4 beta 2 nAChR subtype. These results show that the up-regulation following smoke exposure in the rat is phenomenologically similar to that observed in vitro. These data provide preliminary evidence for a relationship between cigarette smoking and nAChR up-regulation in vivo and suggest that similar mechanisms of upregulation may underlie chronic smoke exposure of live animals and nicotine exposure of artificially expressed alpha 4 beta 2 receptors in vitro.

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