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J Neurosci. 2001 Oct 15;21(20):7993-8003.

Ultrastructural distribution of the alpha7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunit in rat hippocampus.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, United Kingdom.


Acetylcholine (ACh) is an important neurotransmitter in the mammalian brain; it is implicated in arousal, learning, and other cognitive functions. Recent studies indicate that nicotinic receptors contribute to these cholinergic effects, in addition to the established role of muscarinic receptors. In the hippocampus, where cholinergic involvement in learning and memory is particularly well documented, alpha7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunits (alpha7 nAChRs) are highly expressed, but their precise ultrastructural localization has not been determined. Here, we describe the results of immunogold labeling of serial ultrathin sections through stratum radiatum of area CA1 in the rat. Using both anti-alpha7 nAChR immunolabeling and alpha-bungarotoxin binding, we find that alpha7 nAChRs are present at nearly all synapses in CA1 stratum radiatum, with immunolabeling present at both presynaptic and postsynaptic elements. Morphological considerations and double immunolabeling indicate that GABAergic as well as glutamatergic synapses bear alpha7 nAChRs, at densities approaching those observed for glutamate receptors in CA1 stratum radiatum. Postsynaptically, alpha7 nAChRs often are distributed at dendritic spines in a perisynaptic annulus. In the postsynaptic cytoplasm, immunolabeling is associated with spine apparatus and other membranous structures, suggesting that alpha7 nAChRs may undergo dynamic regulation, with insertion into the synapse and subsequent internalization. The widespread and substantial expression of alpha7 nAChRs at synapses in the hippocampus is consistent with an important role in mediating and/or modulating synaptic transmission, plasticity, and neurodegeneration.

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