Cigarette smoking bears a strong etiological association with many neovascularization-related diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and age-related macular degeneration. Cigarette smoke is a complex mixture of many compounds, including nicotine, which is the major active and addictive component of tobacco. Nicotine and its specific metabolized carcinogens directly bind to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) on cell membranes and trigger the nAChR signal cascade. The nAChRs were originally thought to be ligand-gated ion channels that modulate physiological processes ranging from neurotransmission to cancer signaling. For several decades, the nAChRs served as a prototypic molecule for neurotransmitter receptors; however, they are now important therapeutic targets for various diseases, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, schizophrenia, and even cancer. This paper describes recent advances in our understanding of the assembly, activity, and biological functions of nicotinic receptors, as well as developments in the therapeutic application of nicotinic receptor ligands.
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