Nicotine increases the expression of high affinity nerve growth factor receptors in both in vitro and in vivo

Ramamohana R. Jonnala, Alvin V. Terry, Jerry J. Buccafusco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Impairment in nerve growth factor (NGF)-mediated support to basal forebrain cholinergic neurons may represent an initial insult to certain neural cells in Alzheimer's disease (AD). High affinity NGF receptor (TrkA) levels are decreased in AD brains as compared to age-matched control brains. One of the approaches suggested for the treatment of AD exploits the ability of small molecular substances to enhance the expression of endogenous growth factors and/or their receptors. The purpose of this study was to determine whether treatment with nicotine in both in vitro and in vivo settings would increase the neural expression of TrkA receptors. Using a differentiated PC12 neuronal-like system, chronic nicotine treatment increased cell surface TrkA receptor expression. Nicotine's action was blocked by co-treatment with either the non-competitive nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) antagonist mecamylamine or with the α7 nAChR-selective antagonist methyllycaconitine. Surprisingly, certain low doses of mecamylamine alone also increased TrkA receptor levels. Rats prepared with chronic indwelling intravenous catheters were continuously infused with nicotine to deliver a total dose of 12 mg/kg over 24 hr. This treatment resulted in a significant 44% increase in TrkA receptor expression in the hippocampus. As in the cell experiments, mecamylamine also increased hippocampal TrkA receptor expression. In fact, the ratio of the maximal mecamylamine response to the maximal nicotine response that was measured in vitro, i.e., 0.43 was remarkably similar to that for the in vivo experiment, i.e., 0.47. Since in our previous studies the increase in TrkA expression produced by nicotine was shown to be related to its cytoprotective actions, these results suggest that nicotine's neuroprotective actions might also be mediated through the drug's interaction with central α7 nAChRs and subsequent increase in TrkA receptor expression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1543-1554
Number of pages12
JournalLife sciences
Issue number13
StatePublished - Feb 15 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Hippocampus
  • Mecamylamine
  • Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor
  • PC12 cells
  • Tyrosine kinase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)


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