Cigarette smoking remains the leading modifiable risk factor for cardiopulmonary diseases; however, the effects of nicotine alone on cardiopulmonary function remain largely unknown. Previously, we have shown that chronic nicotine vapor inhalation in mice leads to the development of pulmonary hypertension (PH) with right ventricular (RV) remodeling. The present study aims to further examine the cardiopulmonary effects of nicotine and the role of the α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (α7-nAChR), which is widely expressed in the cardiovascular system. Wild-type (WT) and α7-nAChR knockout (α7-nAChR−/−) mice were exposed to room air (control) or nicotine vapor daily for 12 weeks. Consistent with our previous study, echocardiography and RV catheterization reveal that male WT mice developed increased RV systolic pressure with RV hypertrophy and dilatation following 12-week nicotine vapor exposure; in contrast, these changes were not observed in male α7-nAChR−/− mice. In addition, chronic nicotine inhalation failed to induce PH and RV remodeling in female mice regardless of genotype. The effects of nicotine on the vasculature were further examined in male mice. Our results show that chronic nicotine inhalation led to impaired acetylcholine-mediated vasodilatory response in both thoracic aortas and pulmonary arteries, and these effects were accompanied by altered endothelial nitric oxide synthase phosphorylation (enhanced inhibitory phosphorylation at threonine 495) and reduced plasma nitrite levels in WT but not α7-nAChR−/− mice. Finally, RNA sequencing revealed up-regulation of multiple inflammatory pathways in thoracic aortas from WT but not α7-nAChR−/− mice. We conclude that the α7-nAChR mediates chronic nicotine inhalation-induced PH, RV remodeling and vascular dysfunction.

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