Cigarette smoking has been implicated in colon cancer. Nicotine is a major alkaloid in cigarette smoke. In the present study, we showed that nicotine stimulated HT-29 cell proliferation and adrenaline production in a dose-dependent manner. The stimulatory action of nicotine was reversed by atenolol and ICI 118,551, a beta(1)- and beta(2)-selective antagonist, respectively, suggesting the role of beta-adrenoceptors in mediating the action. Nicotine also significantly upregulated the expression of the catecholamine-synthesizing enzymes [tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), dopamine-beta-hydroxylase (DbetaH) and phenylethanolamine N-methyltransferase]. Inhibitor of TH, a rate-limiting enzyme in the catecholamine-biosynthesis pathway, reduced the actions of nicotine on cell proliferation and adrenaline production. Expression of alpha7-nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (alpha7-nAChR) was demonstrated in HT-29 cells. Methyllycaconitine, an alpha7-nAChR antagonist, reversed the stimulatory actions of nicotine on cell proliferation, TH and DbetaH expression as well as adrenaline production. Taken together, through the action on alpha7-nAChR nicotine stimulates HT-29 cell proliferation via the upregulation of the catecholamine-synthesis pathway and ultimately adrenaline production and beta-adrenergic activation. These data reveal the contributory role alpha7-nAChR and beta-adrenoceptors in the tumorigenesis of colon cancer cells and partly elucidate the carcinogenic action of cigarette smoke on colon cancer.