To gain a mechanistic insight into nicotinic receptor-dependent morbidity of tobacco products in the oral cavity, we studied effects of exposures of normal human oral keratinocytes (KCs) for 24 h to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) vs. equivalent concentration of pure nicotine. The exposed KCs showed a multifold increase of nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB) at the mRNA and protein levels, which could be significantly (p<0.05) diminished by alpha-bungarotoxin or transfection with anti-alpha7 small interfering RNA. An increased protein-binding activity of NF-kappaB also could be prevented by blocking alpha7 signaling. The use of pathway inhibitors demonstrated that the Ras/Raf-1/MEK1/ERK steps mediated alpha7-dependent upregulation of NF-kappaB. Thus, exposure of KCs to tobacco may lead to the pathobiologic effects via an intracellular signaling pathway downstream of alpha7 that proceeds through the Ras/Raf-1/MEK1/ERK steps leading to upregulated expression and transactivation of NF-kappaB.