Nicotine may play a role in breast tumor development and metastases, according to the results of a new study from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston. The study was the first to investigate the effects of nicotine on mammary cells.

“Although numerous studies indicate the role of nicotine exposure in tumor promotion, little is known about the effect of nicotine on breast tumor development, especially on the metastatic process of breast cancer,” says lead author Chang Yan Chen, PhD, MD.

The researchers determined that breast epithelial-like MCF10A cells and cancerous MCF7 cells both express several subunits of nAChR (nicotine receptor), that when bound, initiate a signaling process. This could potentially increase cell growth and migration.

“We were able to determine that mammary cells express different subunits of nAChR and that nicotine, possibly through perturbing cell cycle checkpoints, potentiates tumorigenesis in mammary cancer-prone or cancer cells,” says Chen.

“In vitro and in vivo tests showed that no metastasis occurs with the administration of nicotine alone,” says Chen. “At this point we can only suggest that nicotine potentiates the growth-related process.”

The study is published in the journal Cancer Research.