Induction of pulmonary neoplasia in the smoke-exposed ferret by 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK): a model for human lung cancer

Cancer Lett. 2006 Mar 28;234(2):209-19. doi: 10.1016/j.canlet.2005.03.052.


Research into dietary chemoprevention against lung carcinogenesis has been limited by the lack of appropriate animal models that closely mimic smoking-related human lung cancer. Ferrets (Mustela putorius furo) have been used to study the biologic activities of carotenoids against smoke-induced lung lesions, but this model has yet to be thoroughly established and validated. To determine the appropriateness of the ferret as a model for human lung cancer, we have performed a 6-month in vivo study in ferrets exposed to both tobacco smoke and a carcinogen (4-(N-methyl-N-nitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone, NNK) found in cigarette smoke. Results showed that six out 12 ferrets exposed to both NNK injection and cigarette smoke developed grossly identifiable lung tumors whereas none of nine ferrets from the sham treatment group developed any lung lesions. The histopathological types of these tumors (squamous cell carcinoma, adenosquamous carcinoma and adenocarcinoma) in ferret lungs are very similar to those in humans. In addition, 10 out of 12 ferrets exposed to both NNK and cigarette smoke developed preneoplastic lesions (squamous metaplasia, dysplasia, and atypical adenomatous hyperplasia) with complex growth patterns whereas the sham group did not show any of these lesions. Furthermore, the expression of proliferating cellular nuclear antigen increased markedly in both gross tumors and preneoplastic lesions in the lungs. In summary, the development of both preneoplastic lesions and gross lung tumors in ferrets provides an excellent and unique model for studying lung cancer chemoprevention with agents such as carotenoids, and for studying the molecular mechanism of carcinogenesis in the earlier stages of smoke-related lung cancer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / etiology
  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology
  • Animals
  • Carcinogens / toxicity*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / etiology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Ferrets*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lung Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Male
  • Nitrosamines / toxicity*
  • Precancerous Conditions / etiology
  • Precancerous Conditions / pathology
  • Smoking / adverse effects*


  • Carcinogens
  • Nitrosamines
  • 4-(N-methyl-N-nitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone