Acetylcholine (Ach), one of the most important examples of a neurotransmitter, represents a phylogenetically old molecule, widely distributed from bacteria to humans. The finding that neuronal Ach receptors (nAChRs) are present in non-neuronal cells raised some interesting issues related to their specific activity. In humans, different studies have showed that many lung cancer cells expressed nAchRs and that low concentrations of nicotine blocked the induction of apoptosis in these cells. A recent study presents data that SCLC express a cholinergic autocrine loop that can regulate cell growth. Such work demonstrates that SCLC cells have a cholinergic phenotype and that ACh exerts as an autocrine growth factor in human lung tumors. Recently it has been shown that human malignant pleural mesothelioma express a cholinergic system, involved in cell growth regulation. Hence, mesothelioma cell growth as well as normal mesothelial cells growth is modulated by the cholinergic system in which agonists (i.e. nicotine) has a proliferative effect and antagonists (i.e. curare) has an inhibitory effect. Furthermore apoptosis mechanisms in mesothelioma cells are under the control of the cholinergic system (nicotine antiapoptotic via induction of NF-kappaB complexes and phosphorilation of Bad at Serine(112), curare proapoptotic via G(0)-G(1) arrest p21(waf-1)-dependent, but p53-independent). The involvement of the non-neuronal cholinergic system in lung cancer and mesothelioma appears reasonable and open up new therapeutic strategies.
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