Source: Stanford University Medical Center
Summary: Researchers discovered that a receptor that binds to nicotine and to clusters of beta-amyloid molecules is found on certain types of immune cells that can act as suppressors and regulators of the immune system.
A dirty little secret of medical research: Nicotine – a highly addictive substance that keeps tobacco smokers hooked on the habit, has actually been shown to have therapeutic properties. Tobacco smoking has been demonstrated in numerous studies to have a negative association with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases as well as with inflammatory bowel disease. It seems that nicotine, tobacco’s pharmacologically active ingredient is doing something right. Nicotine acts directly on receptors located on certain kinds of nerve cells. Researchers from the Stanford University Medical Center discovered that a receptor that binds to nicotine and to clusters of beta-amyloid molecules is found on certain types of immune cells that can act as suppressors and regulators of the immune system. The study findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Beta-amyloid is one of the numerous proteins known to have biochemical properties that make it possible for them to stack together to form so-called amyloid fibrils, potentially thickening into gummy plaques. Among these amyloid-forming proteins are the infamous Alzheimer’s disease-related proteins tau and beta-amyloid, which can form, respectively, neurofibrillary tangles and plaques in the brain and are believed by many scientists to be the cause of Alzheimer’s disease. And there’s the prion protein, infamous for mad cow disease and its rare but deadly equivalent in people. It happens that the alpha-7 nicotinic receptor is also found on certain types of immune cells that can act as suppressors and regulators of the immune system.
Bottom line: Alpha-7 nAChR-activating drugs might have therapeutic benefits in a variety of inflammatory diseases. Steinman (senior author) and Rothbard (lead author) are working to develop small-molecule therapeutics targeting this receptor that is safe for human use against rheumatoid arthritis, gout, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis.
More Information: Jonathan B. Rothbard et al, “Identification of a common immune regulatory pathway induced by small heat shock proteins, amyloid fibrils, and nicotine”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2018). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1804599115