Nicotine and cotinine modulate cerebral microvascular permeability and protein expression of ZO-1 through nicotinic acetylcholine receptors expressed on brain endothelial cells

J Pharm Sci. 2002 Dec;91(12):2525-38. doi: 10.1002/jps.10256.


The blood-brain barrier (BBB) adapts to a variety of pathological processes. Little is known about the effects of nicotine exposure on BBB function and the ability to adapt to stroke conditions. We have demonstrated, using a well-characterized in vitro BBB model, bovine brain microvessel endothelial cells (BBMEC) model, that nicotine and its major metabolite, cotinine, modulate BBB integrity by opening the paracellular route of solute entry into the brain. Additionally, nicotine and cotinine together increase the permeability change observed after 6 h of hypoxia/aglycemia, an in vitro model of stroke. This has important implications for how the BBB initially adapts to stroke in an environment that is previously exposed to nicotine. Nicotine and cotinine exposure also resulted in reduced ZO-1 immunoreactivity (tight junctional protein) that occurred in a time-dependent manner. Interestingly, attenuation of bovine brain microvessel endothelial cell (BBMEC) ZO-1 protein expression was reversed using 10 nM BGT, an alpha7 nicotinic acetycholine receptor (nAChR) antagonist, suggesting that the effects of nicotine on BBMEC protein expression of ZO-1 protein are mediated by nAChR expressed on brain endothelial cells. In addition to alpha7, we found that BBMEC also contain positive immunoreactivity for the alpha3, alpha5, beta2, beta3 nAChR subunit. Both alpha7 and beta2 nAChR subunit protein levels decreased with prior nicotine and cotinine exposure. These data provide evidence that nicotine and cotinine alter BBB permeability and tight junctional protein expression of ZO-1, thereby altering the BBB response to stroke conditions. These changes in brain endothelial cell paracellular permeability are believed to be associated with nicotine binding to nAChRs present at the BBB.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Capillary Permeability / drug effects
  • Capillary Permeability / physiology*
  • Cattle
  • Cotinine / pharmacokinetics*
  • Cotinine / pharmacology
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Combinations
  • Endothelium, Vascular / drug effects
  • Endothelium, Vascular / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Membrane Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Nicotine / pharmacokinetics*
  • Nicotine / pharmacology
  • Phosphoproteins / biosynthesis*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / biosynthesis*
  • Zonula Occludens-1 Protein


  • Drug Combinations
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Phosphoproteins
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • Zonula Occludens-1 Protein
  • Nicotine
  • Cotinine