Nicotinic and Muscarinic Acetylcholine Receptor Agonists Counteract Cognitive Impairment in a Rat Model of Doxorubicin-Induced Chemobrain via Attenuation of Multiple Programmed Cell Death Pathways

Mol Neurobiol. 2024 Apr 3. doi: 10.1007/s12035-024-04145-0. Online ahead of print.


Chemotherapy causes undesirable long-term neurological sequelae, chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment (CICI), or chemobrain in cancer survivors. Activation of programmed cell death (PCD) has been proposed to implicate in the development and progression of chemobrain. Neuronal apoptosis has been extensively recognized in experimental models of chemobrain, but little is known about alternative forms of PCD in response to chemotherapy. Activation of acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) is emerging as a promising target in attenuating a wide variety of the neuronal death associated with neurodegeneration. Thus, this study aimed to investigate the therapeutic capacity of AChR agonists on cognitive function and molecular hallmarks of multiple PCD against chemotherapy neurotoxicity. To establish the chemobrain model, male Wistar rats were assigned to receive six doses of doxorubicin (DOX: 3 mg/kg) via intraperitoneal injection. The DOX-treated rats received either an a7nAChR agonist (PNU-282987: 3 mg/kg/day), mAChR agonists (bethanechol: 12 mg/kg/day), or the two as a combined treatment. DOX administration led to impaired cognitive function via neuroinflammation, glial activation, reduced synaptic/blood-brain barrier integrity, defective mitochondrial ROS-detoxifying capacity, and dynamic imbalance. DOX insult also mediated hyperphosphorylation of Tau and simultaneously induced various PCD, including apoptosis, necroptosis, and pyroptosis in the hippocampus. Concomitant treatment with either PNU-282987, bethanechol, or a combination of the two potently attenuated neuroinflammation, mitochondrial dyshomeostasis, and Tau hyperphosphorylation, thereby suppressing excessive apoptosis, necroptosis, and pyroptosis and improving cognitive function in DOX-treated rats. Our findings suggest that activation of AChRs using their agonists effectively protected against DOX-induced neuronal death and chemobrain.

Keywords: Acetylcholine receptor agonists; Chemobrain; Chemotherapy; Doxorubicin; Neurotoxicity.