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J Neurobiol. 2002 Dec;53(4):512-23.

Nicotinic alpha 7 receptors: synaptic options and downstream signaling in neurons.

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Neurobiology Section, 9500 Gilman Drive, University of California-San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093-0357, USA.


Nicotinic receptors are cation-ion selective ligand-gated ion channels that are expressed throughout the nervous system. Most have significant calcium permeabilities, enabling them to regulate calcium-dependent events. One of the most abundant is a species composed of the alpha 7 gene product and having a relative calcium permeability equivalent to that of NMDA receptors. The alpha 7-containing receptors can be found presynaptically where they modulate transmitter release, and postsynaptically where they generate excitatory responses. They can also be found in perisynaptic locations where they modulate other inputs to the neuron and can activate a variety of downstream signaling pathways. The effects the receptors produce depend critically on the sites at which they are clustered. Instructive preparations for examining alpha 7-containing receptors are the rat hippocampus, where they are thought to play a modulatory role, and the chick ciliary ganglion, where they participate in throughput transmission as well as regulatory signaling. Relatively high levels of alpha 7-containing receptors are found in the two preparations, and the receptors display a variety of synaptic options and functions in the two cases. Progress is starting to be made in understanding the mechanisms responsible for localizing the receptors at specific sites and in identifying components tethered in the vicinity of the receptors that may facilitate signal transduction and downstream signaling.

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