Eliot Spindel, M.D., Ph.D.

Senior Scientist
Associate Professor
Primary Affiliation
Oregon National Primate Research Center
Program Affiliation
Behavioral Neuroscience
Cell & Developmental Biology
Neuroscience Graduate Program
Program in Molecular & Cellular Biosciences

Summary of Current Research

Neuroscience meets lung cancer and lung development

Normal lung and lung cancer synthesize and secrete acetylcholine, and express both nicotinic and muscarinic receptors.  Multiple GWAS studies have now linked nicotinic receptors to increased risk of lung cancer. The Spindel laboratory focuses on the role of acetylcholine, nicotinic and muscarinic receptors in lung development and lung cancer. 

In lung cancer, acetylcholine secreted by lung cancers acts as an autocrine growth factor signaling through both nicotinic and muscarinic receptors and levels of acetylcholine are increased more than 100 fold in squamous cell lung carcinomas.  In smokers, nicotine also directly stimulates lung cancer growth by interacting with nicotinic receptors expressed on lung cancer cells.  The ability of cholinergic signaling to stimulate lung cancer growth suggests multiple targets to develop new lung cancer therapies.  Our lab is actively investigating the potential of nicotinic and muscarinic antagonists to block lung cancer growth as well as characterizing molecular mechanisms by which cholinergic signaling stimulates cancer growth and development.  In particular the alpha 3, alpha 5 and alpha7 nicotinic receptors have been linked to lung cancer growth as has the M3 muscarinic receptor.  Another area of investigation is the role of the nicotinic receptor modulatory proteins such as lynx1 and lynx2 in lung cancer growth. 

The second major focus of the laboratory is to understand the role of nicotinic receptors in normal lung development and develop therapeutic approaches to block the effects of prenatal nicotine exposure on lung development. This is being pursued in clinical studies in conjunction with the OHSU pediatrics and maternal-fetal medicine departments, in studies in monkeys and transgenic mice and by electrophysiology of lung cells.  The expression of multiple neurotransmitters by airway epithelium also suggests new targets for developing novel lung therapeutics.

Recent Publications

Spindel ER.  Is nicotine the estrogen of lung cancer?  Am J Respir Crit Care Med  2009; 179:1081-1082.

Song P, Sekhon HS, Fu XW, Maier M, Jia Y, Duan J, Proskosil BJ, Gravett C, Lindstrom J, Mark GP, Saha S, Spindel ER.  Activated cholinergic signaling provides a target in squamous cell lung carcinoma.  Cancer Res  2008; 68:4693-4700.

Fu XW, Lindstrom J, Spindel ER.  Nicotine activates and up-regulates nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in bronchial epithelial cells.  Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol  2009; 41:93-99.

Fu XW, Wood K, Spindel ER.  Prenatal nicotine exposure increases GABA signaling and mucin expression in airway epithelium.  Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol (2011) 44:222-9.


  • M.D., Harvard Medical School, 1980
  • Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1982

Preceptor Rotations

Dr. Spindel has not indicated availability for preceptor rotations at this time.

Faculty Mentorship

Dr. Spindel is available as a mentor for 2013-2014.