Incense burning is common in Asian countries due to the religious beliefs. Environmental exposure to incense burning smoke is a potential risk factor for tumor development and progression of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Eastern Asia ethnic origin is strongly associated the clinical benefits of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) in NSCLC patients. However, the impact of the oriental custom of incense burning on the cancer progression and the EGFR TKI-sensitivity of NSCLC remains unclear. Our results showed that long-term exposure to incense burning extract (IBE) increases the cellular proliferation with S phase accumulation and the motility activity of NSCLCs. Interestingly, IBE enhances EGFR signaling activity without affecting its genetic status, and increases the cellular sensitivity of NSCLC cell lines to EGFR TKIs. Auramine, a yellow dye for making incense sticks, was identified as a residual composition in the burning incense smoke, and showed similar EGFR TKI-sensitizing effects. Furthermore, IBE or auramine transcriptionally induce EGFR ligand amphiregulin (AREG) expression for the enhancement of EGFR activity. Neutralization of AREG reduced the viability of IBE-treated cells. These results indicated that exposure to incent smoke may enhance NSCLC progression and their sensitivity to EGFR TKIs through increasing their oncogenic addiction to AREG-induced EGFR signaling.
Keywords: AREG; EGFR; Non-small cell lung cancer; incent burning smoke.