Smoking is one of the most impactful lifestyle-related risk factors in many cancer types including esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC). As the major component of tobacco and e-cigarettes, nicotine is not only responsible for addiction to smoking but also a carcinogen. Here we report that nicotine enhances ESCC cancer malignancy and tumor-initiating capacity by interacting with cholinergic receptor nicotinic alpha 7 subunit (CHRNA7) and subsequently activating the JAK2/STAT3 signaling pathway. We found that aberrant CHRNA7 expression can serve as an independent prognostic factor for ESCC patients. In multiple ESCC mouse models, dextromethorphan and metformin synergistically repressed nicotine-enhanced cancer-initiating cells (CIC) properties and inhibited ESCC progression. Mechanistically, dextromethorphan non-competitively inhibited nicotine binding to CHRNA7 while metformin downregulated CHRNA7 expression by antagonizing nicotine-induced promoter DNA hypomethylation of CHRNA7. Since dextromethorphan and metformin are two safe FDA-approved drugs with minimal undesirable side-effects, the combination of these drugs has a high potential as either a preventive and/or a therapeutic strategy against nicotine-promoted ESCC and perhaps other nicotine-sensitive cancer types as well.
Wang, Lu; Liang, Du; Xiong, Xiao; Lin, Yusheng; Zhu, Jianlin; Yao, Zhimeng; Wang, Shuhong; Guo, Yi; Chen, Yuping; Geary, Kyla; Pan, Yunlong; Zhou, Fuyou; Gao, Shegan; Zhang, Dianzheng; Yeung, Sai-Ching Jim; and Zhang, Hao, "Repurposing dextromethorphan and metformin for treating nicotine-induced cancer by directly targeting CHRNA7 to inhibit JAK2/STAT3/SOX2 signaling" (2021). PCOM Scholarly Papers. 2105.