Nicotine Changes Airway Epithelial Phenotype and May Increase the SARS-COV-2 Infection Severity

L. Lupacchini, F. Maggi, C. Tomino, C. De Dominicis, C. Mollinari, M. Fini, S. Bonassi, D. Merlo, P. Russo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


(1) Background: Nicotine is implicated in the SARS-COV-2 infection through activation of the α7-nAChR and over-expression of ACE2. Our objective was to clarify the role of nicotine in SARS-CoV-2 infection exploring its molecular and cellular activity. (2) Methods: HBEpC or si-mRNA-α7-HBEpC were treated for 1 h, 48 h or continuously with 10-7 M nicotine, a concentration mimicking human exposure to a cigarette. Cell viability and proliferation were evaluated by trypan blue dye exclusion and cell counting, migration by cell migration assay, senescence by SA-β-Gal activity, and anchorage-independent growth by cloning in soft agar. Expression of Ki67, p53/phospho-p53, VEGF, EGFR/pEGFR, phospho-p38, intracellular Ca2+, ATP and EMT were evaluated by ELISA and/or Western blotting. (3) Results: nicotine induced through α7-nAChR (i) increase in cell viability, (ii) cell proliferation, (iii) Ki67 over-expression, (iv) phospho-p38 up-regulation, (v) EGFR/pEGFR over-expression, (vi) increase in basal Ca2+ concentration, (vii) reduction of ATP production, (viii) decreased level of p53/phospho-p53, (ix) delayed senescence, (x) VEGF increase, (xi) EMT and consequent (xii) enhanced migration, and (xiii) ability to grow independently of the substrate. (4) Conclusions: Based on our results and on evidence showing that nicotine potentiates viral infection, it is likely that nicotine is involved in SARS-CoV-2 infection and severity.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecules (Basel, Switzerland)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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