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Brain Res. 2002 May 31;938(1-2):45-54.

Alpha-7 nicotinic receptor expression by two distinct cell types in the dorsal raphe nucleus and locus coeruleus of rat.

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  • 1Neurological and Urological Diseases Research, Pharmaceutical Products Division, Abbott Laboratories, Building AP9A-LL (D-4N5), 100 Abbott Park Rd., Abbott Park, IL 60064-3500, USA.


The alpha 7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) subunit can be assembled to form a homomeric-pentamer with high permeability to calcium. Although the expression of the alpha 7-nAChR has been demonstrated throughout the CNS, the neurochemical phenotype of neurons expressing alpha 7 remains to a large extent unknown. Using an antibody against the alpha 7 nAChR subunit, immunohistochemical staining was observed in rat dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) and locus coeruleus (LC), serotonergic and noradrenergic brainstem nuclei, respectively. In both the DRN and LC, there appeared to be two histologically distinct alpha 7-expressing cell types as distinguished by size, i.e. large versus small diameter. In rats treated with either a serotonergic (5,7-dihydroxytryptamine) or noradrenergic (anti-dopamine-beta-hydroxylase saporin) neurotoxin, tryptophan hydroxylase and tyrosine hydroxylase immunostaining was abolished, respectively. Similarly, the alpha 7-positive large-diameter cells were no longer detectable, suggesting that these cells were serotonergic DRN and noradrenergic LC neurons. Indeed, double-labeling experiments revealed in the large cell types coexpression of alpha 7 with tryptophan hydroxylase in the DRN and with tyrosine hydroxylase in the LC of saline-treated rats. In contrast to the large-diameter cells, the alpha 7-positive small-diameter cells were neither serotonergic nor adrenergic, and were still detected in both the DRN and LC of lesioned rats. Moreover, cell counts revealed an increase number of these cells in lesioned rats with expression of alpha 7 in somal processes not seen in non-lesioned controls. Double labeling revealed coexpression of alpha 7 and GABA within the majority, but not all, of the toxin-resistant cells. The results of these studies suggest that both serotonergic and noradrenergic neurons express alpha 7 nAChRs. In addition, there appears to be a small-diameter cell-type in both the DRN and LC, possibly a GABAergic interneuron, expressing alpha 7 that may be regulated by neurotoxic injury.

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