Cholinergic agonists inhibit HMGB1 release and improve survival in experimental sepsis

Hong Wang, Hong Liao, Mahendar Ochani, Marilou Justiniani, Xinchun Lin, Lihong Yang, Yousef Al-Abed, Haichao Wang, Christine Metz, Edmund J. Miller, Kevin J. Tracey, Luis Ulloa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

893 Scopus citations


Physiological anti-inflammatory mechanisms can potentially be exploited for the treatment of inflammatory disorders. Here we report that the neurotransmitter acetylcholine inhibits HMGB1 release from human macrophages by signaling through a nicotinic acetylcholine receptor. Nicotine, a selective cholinergic agonist, is more efficient than acetylcholine and inhibits HMGB1 release induced by either endotoxin or tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α). Nicotinic stimulation prevents activation of the NF-κB pathway and inhibits HMGB1 secretion through a specific 'nicotinic anti-inflammatory pathway' that requires the α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (α7nAChR). In vivo, treatment with nicotine attenuates serum HMGB1 levels and improves survival in experimental models of sepsis, even when treatment is started after the onset of the disease. These results reveal acetylcholine as the first known physiological inhibitor of HMGB1 release from human macrophages and suggest that selective nicotinic agonists for the α7nAChR might have therapeutic potential for the treatment of sepsis.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1216-1221
Number of pages6
JournalNature Medicine
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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