The nicotinic acetylcholine receptor a7 in subcutaneous mature adipocytes: Downregulation in human obesity and modulation by diet-induced weight loss

R. Cancello, A. Zulian, S. Maestrini, M. Mencarelli, A. Della Barba, C. Invitti, A. Liuzzi, A. M. Di Blasio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND:It is known that cholinergic anti-inflammatory reflex regulates inflammation in peripheral tissues. Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are mediators of this anti-inflammatory pathway and also non-neuronal cells express functional nAChrs. A role for α7-subtype acetylcholine cholinergic receptor (α7nAChR) in insulin sensitivity improvement has already been shown in rodents both in vivo and in vitro. However, no data are available on α7nAChR expression in human adipocytes.OBJECTIVE:To investigate the expression and protein content of α7nAChR in human subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) and in isolated mature adipocytes.DESIGN:A total of 39 SAT biopsy specimens obtained from obese and normal-weight subjects were used to assess α7nAChR messenger RNA levels and to stimulate α7nAChR with a specific agonist and antagonist in vitro. Additional SATs from eight non-diabetic obese subjects were also studied, before and after a 3-month lifestyle intervention.RESULTS:α7nAChR expression was significantly lower in the SAT of obese subjects compared with that of normal-weight subjects. In mature adipocytes isolated from morbidly obese subjects (body mass index>40kgm-2), α7nAChR expression was 75% lower compared with adipocytes from normal-weight subjects. In adipocytes of obese subjects, α7nAChR was downregulated also at protein level. In eight non-diabetic obese subjects, a lifestyle intervention (3 months of diet and physical activity) induced a significant weight loss and an increase in α7nAChR SAT expression. In vitro stimulation of adipocytes with the specific α7nAChR agonist PNU282987 induced a significant anti-inflammatory effect. Furthermore, a similar downregulation of the inflammatory profile, associated with a significant increase in α7nAChR protein level, was observed after genistein stimulation.CONCLUSIONS:These results provide evidence that α7nAChR expression levels are significantly decreased in obese subjects, and that this receptor modulates inflammatory gene expression in human adipocytes. The upregulation of α7nAChR by genistein stimulation opens new insights for the management of low-grade inflammation linked to human obesity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1552-1557
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Journal of Obesity
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012


  • α7nAChR
  • adipocytes
  • adipose tissue
  • chrna7
  • inflammation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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