Background: Activation of gastrin-releasing peptide receptor (GRPR) in human airways has been associated with a proliferative response of bronchial cells to gastrin-releasing peptide and with long-term tobacco use. The GRPR gene is located on the X chromosome and escapes X-chromosome inactivation, which occurs in females. Increasing evidence demonstrates that women are more susceptible than men to tobacco carcinogenesis. We hypothesized that the susceptibility of women to the effects of tobacco may be associated with airway expression of GRPR.
Methods: We analyzed GRPR messenger RNA (mRNA) expression in lung tissues and cultured airway cells from 78 individuals (40 males and 38 females) and in lung fibroblasts exposed to nicotine in vitro. Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in airway cells were assayed by use of radioactively labeled nicotine and nicotine antagonists. A polymorphism in exon 2 of the GRPR gene was used to detect allele-specific GRPR mRNA expression in some individuals. Statistical tests were two-sided.
Results: GRPR mRNA expression was detected in airway cells and tissues of more female than male nonsmokers (55% versus 0%) and short-term smokers (1-25 pack-years [pack-years = number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day multiplied by the number of years of smoking]) (75% versus 20%) (P =.018 for nonsmoking and short-term smoking females versus nonsmoking and short-term smoking males). Female smokers exhibited expression of GRPR mRNA at a lower mean pack-year exposure than male smokers (37.4 pack-years versus 56.3 pack-years; P =.037). Lung fibroblasts and bronchial epithelial cells exhibited high-affinity, saturable nicotinic acetylcholine-binding sites. Expression of GRPR mRNA in lung fibroblasts was elevated following exposure to nicotine.
Conclusions: Our results suggest that the GRPR gene is expressed more frequently in women than in men in the absence of smoking and that expression of this gene is activated earlier in women in response to tobacco exposure. The presence of two expressed copies of the GRPR gene in females may be a factor in the increased susceptibility of women to tobacco-induced lung cancer.