Oxidative stress-induced neuronal damage has been implicated to play a dominant role in neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Nicotine, a principal additive compound for tobacco users, is thought as a candidate to attenuate amyloid-β-mediated neurotoxicity and NMDA-induced excitotoxicity. Previous studies demonstrated that nicotine exerted this neuroprotective action on oxidative stress. However, the mechanisms underlying how nicotine contributes on oxidative injury in immortalized hippocampal HT-22 cells remain largely unknown. Therefore, in this study we investigated that the potential effects of nicotine on hydrogen peroxide (H2O2)-induced oxidative injury and underlying mechanisms in HT-22 cells. We found that pretreatment with nicotine at low concentrations markedly recovered the cell cycle that was arrested at the G2/M phase in the presence of H2O2 through reduced intracellular ROS generation. Moreover, nicotine attenuated H2O2-induced mitochondrial dysfunctions.
Mechanistically, the application of nicotine significantly upregulated the levels of phosphorylated Erk1/2. The neuroprotective effects of nicotine, in turn, were abolished by PD0325901, a selective Erk1/2 inhibitor. Further obtained investigation showed that nicotine exerted its neuroprotective effects via specifically activating α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (α7-nAChRs). A selective inhibitor of α7-nAChRs, methyllycaconitine citrate (MLA), not only completely prevented nicotine-mediated antioxidation but also abolished expression of p-Erk1/2. Taken together, our findings suggest that nicotine suppresses H2O2-induced HT-22 cell injury through activating the α7-nAChR/Erk1/2 signaling pathway, which indicates that nicotine may be a novel strategy for the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders.