Tobacco carcinogen induces microglial activation and subsequent neuronal damage


Address correspondence and reprint requests to Anirban Basu, National Brain Research Centre, Manesar, Haryana 122050, India. E-mail:


4-Methylnitrosamino-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK) is a tobacco-specific procarcinogen. We have investigated whether NNK causes inflammatory upheaval in the brain by activation of resident microglia and astrocyte and result in bystander neuronal damage. We have carried out the work in both in vitro and in vivo models. We have found that treatment with NNK causes significant activation of mouse microglial (BV2) cell line as evident by increase in reactive oxygen species and nitric oxide level. Western blot analysis has showed increase in proinflammatory signaling proteins, proinflammatory effector proteins, and other stress-related proteins. Interestingly, increased levels of proinflammatory cytokines like interleukin (IL)-6, tumor necrosis factor-α, monocyte chemoattractant protein 1 (MCP1), and IL-12p70 are also detected. Work from our in vivo studies has demonstrated similar increase in proinflammatory signaling and effector molecules along with the proinflammatory cytokine levels, following NNK treatment. Immunohistochemical staining of the brain sections of NNK-treated mice reveals massive microglial and astrocyte activation along with distinct foci of neuronal damage. Both in vitro and in vivo results provide strong indication that NNK causes significant upheaval of the inflammatory condition of brain and inflicts subsequent neuronal damage.