Sinomenine (SIN) is an anti-inflammatory drug that has been used for decades in China to treat arthritis. In a previous study, SIN acted on α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (α7nAChR) to inhibit inflammatory responses in macrophages, which indicates a new anti-inflammatory mechanism of SIN. However, the level of α7nAChR was increased in the inflammatory responses and was downregulated by SIN in vitro, so the underlying mechanisms of SIN acting on α7nAChR remain unclear.
To analyze the role of α7nAChR in inflammation and the effect and mechanism of SIN regulation of α7nAChR.
The effects of SIN on α7nAChR in endotoxemic mice and LPS-stimulated macrophages were observed. Nicotine (Nic) was used as a positive control, and berberine (Ber) was used as a negative control targeting α7nAChR. The antagonists of α7nAChR, α-bungarotoxin (BTX) and mecamylamine (Me), were used to block α7nAChR. In RAW264.7 macrophage cells in vitro, α7nAChR short hairpin RNA (shRNA) was used to knock down α7nAChR. Macrophage polarization was analyzed by the detection of TNF-α, IL-6, iNOS, IL-10, Arg-1, and Fizz1. U0126 was used to block ERK phosphorylation. The cytokines α7nAChR, ERK1/2, p-ERK1/2 and Egr-1 were detected.
SIN decreased the levels of TNF-α, IL-6 and the expression of α7nAChR increased by LPS in endotoxemic mice. The above effects of SIN were attenuated by BTX. In the α7nAChR shRNA transfected RAW264.7 cells, compared with the control, α7nAChR was knocked down, and M1 phenotype markers (including TNF-α, IL-6, and iNOS) were significantly downregulated, whereas M2 phenotype markers (including IL-10, Arg-1, and Fizz1) were significantly upregulated when stimulated by LPS. SIN inhibited the expression of p-ERK1/2 and the transcription factor Egr-1 induced by LPS in RAW264.7 cells, and the above effects of SIN were attenuated by BTX. The expression of α7nAChR was suppressed by U0126, which lessened the expression of p-ERK1/2 and Egr-1.
SIN acts on α7nAChR to inhibit inflammatory responses and downregulates high expression of α7nAChR in vivo and in vitro. The increase of α7nAChR expression is correlated with inflammatory responses and participates in macrophage M1 polarization. SIN downregulates α7nAChR via a feedback pathway of α7nAChR/ERK/Egr-1, which contributes to inhibiting macrophage M1 polarization and inflammatory responses.

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