The Journal of toxicological sciences

Tobacco nitrosamine NNK increases ALDH-positive cells via ROS-Wnt signaling pathway in A549 human lung cancer cells.

PMID 28321046


Epidemiological studies suggest that lung cancer, which is a major cause of cancer death, has a critical association with cigarette smoking. Tobacco-specific nitrosamine 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK) in cigarette smoke is a major risk factor for carcinogenesis. However, the mechanisms by which NNK promotes cancer development have not been fully elucidated. Growing evidence suggests that lung cancer originates from cancer stem cells (CSCs), which are a minor population of lung cancer cells. In the present study, we investigated the effects of NNK on the CSCs in A549 human lung cancer cells using flow cytometry with aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), a functional marker of CSCs. We found that NNK increased the proportion of ALDH-positive cells in a dose-dependent manner. A Wnt inhibitor PNU74654 reduced NNK-induced expression levels of Wnt target gene Dkk1 and increase in ALDH-positive cells. We next examined the signaling pathway that mediates the NNK-induced increase in ALDH-positive cells via Wnt signaling. DCF assay revealed that NNK induced reactive oxygen species (ROS) production. The ROS scavenger N-acetylcysteine (NAC) inhibited the NNK-induced Wnt activation and increase in ALDH-positive cells. These data suggest that NNK-induced ROS activate the Wnt signaling pathway in A549 cells. These findings would provide new insights into the role of NNK in the lung CSCs.