Toxic effects of low alcohol and nicotine combinations in SH-SY5Y cells are apoptotically mediated

Neurotox Res. 2011 Oct;20(3):263-9. doi: 10.1007/s12640-011-9239-x. Epub 2011 Jan 8.


It is well established that combination of heavy drinking and smoking has severe health consequences. However, at relatively low concentrations, both alcohol and nicotine may have beneficial effects including neuroprotection. Thus, protective effects of low alcohol concentration against beta-amyloid-induced toxicity in organotypic hippocampal slices and protective effects of nicotine against salsolinol-induced toxicity in human-derived neuroblastoma cells (SH-SY5Y) have been reported. In this study, we sought to determine whether alcohol might also be protective against salsolinol-induced toxicity in SH-SY5Y cells and whether the combination of low doses of alcohol and nicotine might have an additive or synergistic effect. Pre-exposure of SH-SY5Y cells to either ethanol (1 or 10 mM) or nicotine (20 or 50 μM) significantly attenuated salsolinol-induced toxicity. However, contrary to the expectation the combination of low doses of alcohol and nicotine not only did not provide any synergistic or additive protective effect, but exacerbated salsolinol-induced toxicity. Indeed, simple combination of low alcohol and nicotine resulted in significant toxicity in SH-SY5Y cells. This toxicity, reflected in a reduction in cell viability was associated with an increase in apoptosis as determined by caspase-3 measurement. These in vitro results suggest that combination of even low concentrations of alcohol and nicotine may activate apoptotic mechanisms that can lead to cell toxicity and detrimental consequences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Caspase 3 / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / toxicity*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Combinations
  • Ethanol / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Neuroblastoma / pathology
  • Nicotine / toxicity*
  • Nicotinic Agonists / toxicity*
  • Salsoline Alkaloids / pharmacology
  • Tetrazolium Salts
  • Thiazoles


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Drug Combinations
  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Salsoline Alkaloids
  • Tetrazolium Salts
  • Thiazoles
  • Ethanol
  • Nicotine
  • salsoline
  • Caspase 3
  • thiazolyl blue