Arecoline cytotoxicity on human oral mucosal fibroblasts related to cellular thiol and esterase activities

Food Chem Toxicol. 1999 Jul;37(7):751-6. doi: 10.1016/s0278-6915(99)00050-2.


Betel quid (BQ) chewing is associated with an increased risk of oral submucous fibrosis (OSF) and oral cancer in India and many south-east Asian countries. Recently, we have shown that arecoline is cytotoxic to cultured human oral mucosal fibroblasts. This study investigated protective effects of various agents against the cytotoxicity of arecoline and its mechanisms. Arecoline, at concentrations of 0.2 and 0.4 mM, decreased the cell numbers by 38% and 63%, respectively. At a concentration of 2 mM, N-acetyl-L-cysteine [a glutathione (GSH) synthesis precursor] could prevent arecoline-induced cytotoxicity. The decrease in cell numbers was reduced to 17% relative to control. Extracellular addition of esterase at a concentration of 0.1 U/ml could almost completely protect the oral mucosal fibroblast (OMF) from arecoline-induced cytotoxicity. Arecoline is a muscarinic receptor agonist. However, atropine, a muscarinic receptor antagonist was unable to protect the cells from arecoline cytotoxicity at a concentration of 10 microM. Pretreatment of OMF with 50 microM buthionine sulfoximine (a cellular GSH synthesis inhibitor) or 0.5 mM diethylmaleate (a cellular GSH depleting agent) potentiated the cytotoxic effects of arecoline. These results indicate that cytotoxicity of arecoline on OMF is associated with cellular GSH levels and esterase activities. Factors that induce the GSH synthesis or esterase activity of oral mucosal cells can be used for future chemoprevention of BQ chewing-related lesions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / pharmacology
  • Antimetabolites / pharmacology
  • Areca / adverse effects*
  • Arecoline / toxicity*
  • Atropine / pharmacology
  • Buthionine Sulfoximine / pharmacology
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Esterases / pharmacology
  • Expectorants / pharmacology
  • Fibroblasts
  • Ganglionic Stimulants / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Maleates / pharmacology
  • Mouth Mucosa / cytology*
  • Mouth Mucosa / drug effects
  • Mouth Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Muscarinic Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Plants, Medicinal*
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / metabolism*
  • Thiolester Hydrolases / metabolism*


  • Antimetabolites
  • Expectorants
  • Ganglionic Stimulants
  • Maleates
  • Muscarinic Antagonists
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds
  • Arecoline
  • Buthionine Sulfoximine
  • Atropine
  • Esterases
  • Thiolester Hydrolases
  • diethyl maleate
  • Acetylcysteine