Role of non-neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in angiogenesis

Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2009 Jul;41(7):1441-51. doi: 10.1016/j.biocel.2009.01.013. Epub 2009 Jan 29.


Angiogenesis is a critical physiological process for cell survival and development. Endothelial cells, necessary for the course of angiogenesis, express several non-neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (AChRs). The most important functional non-neuronal AChRs are homomeric alpha7 AChRs and several heteromeric AChRs formed by a combination of alpha3, alpha5, beta2, and beta4 subunits, including alpha3beta4-containing AChRs. In endothelial cells, alpha7 AChR stimulation indirectly triggers the activation of the integrin alphavbeta3 receptor and an intracellular MAP kinase (ERK) pathway that mediates angiogenesis. Non-selective cholinergic agonists such as nicotine have been shown to induce angiogenesis, enhancing tumor progression. Moreover, alpha7 AChR selective antagonists such as alpha-bungarotoxin and methyllycaconitine as well as the non-specific antagonist mecamylamine have been shown to inhibit endothelial cell proliferation and ultimately blood vessel formation. Exploitation of such pharmacologic properties can lead to the discovery of new specific cholinergic antagonists as anti-cancer therapies. Conversely, the pro-angiogenic effect elicited by specific agonists can be used to treat diseases that respond to revascularization such as diabetic ischemia and atherosclerosis, as well as to accelerate wound healing. In this mini-review we discuss the pharmacological evidence supporting the importance of non-neuronal AChRs in angiogenesis. We also explore potential intracellular mechanisms by which alpha7 AChR activation mediates this vital cellular process.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Neoplasms / blood supply
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / metabolism*
  • Neovascularization, Physiologic*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / metabolism*


  • Receptors, Nicotinic