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nicotine-derived nitrosamine ketone (NNK)
IUPAC name
Molar mass 207.23 g/mol
Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).
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Nicotine-derived nitrosamine ketone (NNK), also known as 4-(methylnitro-samino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone is one of the key tobacco-specific nitrosamines which play an important role in carcinogenesis.[1]


NNK is a compound that is naturally synthesized in tobacco leaves that are exposed to light, the pyrrolidine ring in the Nicotine opens and turns the nicotine into NNK.

It can also be formed synthetically by taking the following steps: “The potent carcinogen 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK) is present in tobacco and tobacco smoke. [Carbonyl14C]NNK (6) was synthesized in 27% overall yield. [Carboxyl-14C] nicotinic acid was esterified with benzyl alcohol and the ester was alkylated by 3-lithio-N-methylpyrrolidin-2-one. The resulting keto-lactam was hydrolyzed and decarboxylated by treatment with boiling hydrochloric acid. Nitrosation at pH 4.0 gave [carbonyl-14C]NNK. Carbonyl reduction of [carbonyl-14C]NNK with either sodium borohydride or cultured rat liver slices gave [carbinol-14C] 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl) butan-1-ol.” [2]



NNK is initially a procarcinogen that needs activation to exert its effects. The activation of NNK is done by enzymes of the cytochrome pigment (CYP) multigene family. These enzymes catalyze hydroxylation reactions. Beside the CYP family NNK can also be activated by metabolic genes, like myeloperoxidase (MPO) and epoxide hydrolase (EPHX1). NNK can be activated by two different routes, the oxidative path and the reductive path. In the oxidative metabolism NNK undergoes an α-hydroxylation catalyzed by cytochrome P450. This reaction can be done by two pathways namely by α-methylhydoxylation or by α-methylenehydroxylation. Both pathways produce the carcinogenic metabolized isoform of NNK, NNAL. In the reductive metabolism NNK undergoes either a carbonyl reduction or a pyridine N-oxidation, both producing NNAL. NNAL can be detoxified by glucuronidation producing an non-carcinogenic compounds known as NNAL-Glucs. The glucuronidation can take place on the oxygen next to the ring (NNAL-O-Gluc), or it takes place on the nitrogen inside the ring(NNAL-N-Gluc). The NNAL-Glucs are then excreted by the kidneys into the urine. [3]

Signaling pathways[edit]

Once NNK is activated, NNK initiates a cascade of signaling pathways (for example ERK1/2, NFκB, PI3K/Akt, MAPK, FasL, K-ras), resulting in uncontrolled cellular proliferation and tumorigenesis.[4] NNK activates µ en m-calpain kinase which induce lung metastatis via the ERK1/2 pathway. This pathway upregulate cellular myelocytomatosis (c-Myc) and B cell leukemia/lumphoma 2 (Bcl2) in which the two oncoprotein are involved in cellular proliferation, transformation and apoptosis. Also does NNK promotes cell survival via phosphorylation with cooperation of c-Myc and Bcl2 causing cellular migration, invasion and uncontrolled proliferation.[5] The ERK1/2 pathway also phosphorylate NFκB causing a upregulation of cyclin D1, a G1 phase regulator protein. When NNK is present it directly involves cellular survival dependent on NFκB. Further studies are needed to better understand NNK cellular pathyways of NFκB.[6][7] The phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K/Akt) pathway is also an important contributor to NNK-induced cellular transformations and metastasis. This process ensures the proliferation and survival of tumorigenic cells.[8] The ERK1/2 and Akt pathways show consequential changes in levels of protein expression as a result of NNK-activation in the cells, but further research is needed to fully understand the mechanism of NNK-activated pathways.



NNK is known as a mutagen, which means it causes polymorphisms in the human genome. Studies showed that NNK induced gene polymorphisms in cells that involve in cell growth, proliferation and differentiation. There are multiple NNK dependent routes that involve cell proliferation. One example is the cell route that coordinates the downregulation of retinoic acid receptor beta (RAR-β). Studies showed that with a 100 mg/kg dose of NNK, several point mutations were formed in the RAR-β gene, inducing tumorigenesis in the lungs. Other genes affected by NNK include sulfotransferase 1A1 (SULT1A1), transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β), and angiotensin II (AT2). NNK plays a very important role in gene silencing, modification, and functional disruption which induce carcinogenesis. [4]


Cruciferous vegetables and EGCG in green tea inhibit lung tumorigenesis by NNK.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Akopyan, G., and Bonavida, B. (2006). "Understanding tobacco smoke carcinogen NNK and lung tumorigenesis". International Journal of Oncology 29 (4): 745–752. doi:10.3892/ijo.29.4.745. 
  2. ^ Castonguay, A., & Hecht, S. S. (1985). Synthesis of carbon-14 labeled 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone. Journal of Labelled Compounds and Radiopharmaceuticals, 22(1), 23-28. doi: 10.1002/jlcr.2580220104
  3. ^ Wiener, D., Doerge, D. R., Fang, J.-L., Upadhyaya, P. & Lazarus, P. CHARACTERIZATION OF N-GLUCURONIDATION OF THE LUNG CARCINOGEN 4-(METHYLNITROSAMINO)-1-(3-PYRIDYL)-1-BUTANOL (NNAL) IN HUMAN LIVER: IMPORTANCE OF UDP-GLUCURONOSYLTRANSFERASE 1A4. Drug Metabolism and Disposition 32, 72-79, doi:10.1124/dmd.32.1.72 (2004)
  4. ^ a b Akopyan, G., & Bonavida, B. (2006). Understanding tobacco smoke carcinogen NNK and lung tumorigenesis (Review). International Journal of Oncology, 29(4), 745-752.
  5. ^ Jin Z, Gao F, Flagg T and Deng X: Tobacco-specific nitrosamine4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanonepromotes functional cooperation of Bcl2 and c-Myc throughphosphorylation in regulating cell survival and proliferation. JBiol Chem 279: 40209-40219, 2004
  6. ^ Ho YS, Chen CH, Wang YJ, Pestell RG, Albanese C, Chen RJ,Chang MC, Jeng JH, Lin SY, Liang YC, Tseng H, Lee WS,Lin JK, Chu JS, Chen LC, Lee CH, Tso WL, Lai YC and Wu CH:Tobacco-specific carcinogen 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK) induces cell proliferation in normalhuman bronchial epithelial cells through NFkappaB activationand cyclin D1 up-regulation. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 205:133-148, 2005.
  7. ^ Tsurutani J, Castillo SS, Brognard J, Granville CA, Zhang C,Gills JJ, Sayyah J and Dennis PA: Tobacco components stimulate Akt-dependent proliferation and NFkappaB-dependent survival in lung cancer cells. Carcinogenesis 26: 1182-1195,2005.
  8. ^ West KA, Linnoila IR, Belinsky SA, Harris CC and Dennis PA:Tobacco carcinogen-induced cellular transformation increases activation of the phosphatidylinositol 3'-kinase/Akt pathway in vitro and in vivo. Cancer Res 64: 446-451, 2004.
  9. ^ Chung FL, Morse MA, Eklind KI, Xu Y (1993). "Inhibition of tobacco-specific nitrosamine-induced lung tumorigenesis by compounds derived from cruciferous vegetables and green tea". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 686: 186–201; discussion 201–2. PMID 8512247. Retrieved 2015-06-07. 

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