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J. Neurosci. 29 (22): 7137-7147

Copyright © 2009 by the Society for Neuroscience.


Chronic Nicotine Blunts Hypoxic Sensitivity in Perinatal Rat Adrenal Chromaffin Cells via Upregulation of KATP Channels: Role of {alpha}7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor and Hypoxia-Inducible Factor-2{alpha}

Josef Buttigieg,1 Stephen Brown,1 Alison C. Holloway,2 , and Colin A. Nurse1

Departments of 1Biology and 2Obstetrics and Gynecology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario L8S 4K1, Canada

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Colin A. Nurse, Department of Biology, McMaster University, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1, Canada. Email: nursec{at}

Abstract: Fetal nicotine exposure blunts hypoxia-induced catecholamine secretion from neonatal adrenomedullary chromaffin cells (AMCs), providing a link between maternal smoking, abnormal arousal responses, and risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Here, we show that the mechanism is attributable to upregulation of KATP channels via stimulation of {alpha}7 nicotinic ACh receptors (AChRs). These KATP channels open during hypoxia, thereby suppressing membrane excitability. After in utero exposure to chronic nicotine, neonatal AMCs show a blunted hypoxic sensitivity as determined by inhibition of outward K+ current, membrane depolarization, rise in cytosolic Ca2+, and catecholamine secretion. However, hypoxic sensitivity could be unmasked in nicotine-exposed AMCs when glibenclamide, a blocker of KATP channels, was present. Both KATP current density and KATP channel subunit (Kir 6.2) expression were significantly enhanced in nicotine-exposed cells relative to controls. The entire sequence could be reproduced in culture by exposing neonatal rat AMCs or immortalized fetal chromaffin (MAH) cells to nicotine for ~1 week, and was prevented by coincubation with selective blockers of {alpha}7 nicotinic AChRs. Additionally, coincubation with inhibitors of protein kinase C and CaM kinase, but not protein kinase A, prevented the effects of chronic nicotine in vitro. Interestingly, chronic nicotine failed to blunt hypoxia-evoked responses in MAH cells bearing short hairpin knockdown (>90%) of the transcription factor, hypoxia-inducible factor-2{alpha} (HIF-2{alpha}), suggesting involvement of the HIF pathway. The therapeutic potential of KATP channel blockers was validated in experiments in which hypoxia-induced neonatal mortality in nicotine-exposed pups was significantly reduced after pretreatment with glibenclamide.

Received for publication Feb. 2, 2009. Revision received April 2, 2009. Accepted for publication April 20, 2009.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Colin A. Nurse, Department of Biology, McMaster University, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1, Canada. Email: nursec{at}

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