Role of nicotinic receptors and acetylcholine in mucous cell metaplasia, hyperplasia, and airway mucus formation in vitro and in vivo. Academic Article uri icon


  • Airway mucus hypersecretion is a key pathophysiologic feature in a number of lung diseases. Cigarette smoke/nicotine and allergens are strong stimulators of airway mucus; however, the mechanism of mucus modulation is unclear.We sought to characterize the pathway by which cigarette smoke/nicotine regulates airway mucus and identify agents that decrease airway mucus.IL-13 and γ-aminobutyric acid type A receptors (GABA(A)Rs) are implicated in airway mucus. We examined the role of IL-13 and GABA(A)Rs in nicotine-induced mucus formation in normal human bronchial epithelial (NHBE) and A549 cells and secondhand cigarette smoke-induced, ovalbumin-induced, or both mucus formation in vivo.Nicotine promotes mucus formation in NHBE cells; however, the nicotine-induced mucus formation is independent of IL-13 but sensitive to the GABA(A)R antagonist picrotoxin. Airway epithelial cells express α7-, α9-, and α10-nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), and specific inhibition or knockdown of α7- but not α9/α10-nAChRs abrogates mucus formation in response to nicotine and IL-13. Moreover, addition of acetylcholine or inhibition of its degradation increases mucus in NHBE cells. Nicotinic but not muscarinic receptor antagonists block allergen- or nicotine/cigarette smoke-induced airway mucus formation in NHBE cells, murine airways, or both.Nicotine-induced airway mucus formation is independent of IL-13, and α7-nAChRs are critical in airway mucous cell metaplasia/hyperplasia and mucus production in response to various promucoid agents, including IL-13. In the absence of nicotine, acetylcholine might be the biological ligand for α7-nAChRs to trigger airway mucus formation. α7-nAChRs are downstream of IL-13 but upstream of GABA(A)Rα2 in the MUC5AC pathway. Acetylcholine and α7-nAChRs might serve as therapeutic targets to control airway mucus.Copyright © 2012 American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Published by Mosby, Inc. All rights reserved.

publication date

  • September 2012