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Mol Pharmacol. 2005 Dec;68(6):1839-51. Epub 2005 Sep 23.

Nicotine acts as a pharmacological chaperone to up-regulate human alpha4beta2 acetylcholine receptors.

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Department of Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania Medical School, 217 Stemmler Hall 36th and Hamilton Walk, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, USA.


Human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (AChR) alpha4 subunits and an alpha4 mutant (S247Falpha4) found in autosomal-dominant nocturnal frontal lobe epilepsy (ADNFLE) were expressed along with beta2 in permanently transfected tsA201 human embryonic kidney cell lines. Their sensitivity to activation, desensitization, and up-regulation by cholinergic ligands was investigated. Up-regulation after 3 to 24 h resulted primarily from an increase in assembly of AChRs from large pools of unassembled subunits, but up-regulation also resulted from a 5-fold increase in the lifetime of AChRs in the surface membrane. Up-regulation does not require current flow through surface membrane AChRs, because up-regulation occurs in the presence of the channel blocker mecamylamine and with the alpha4 mutant, which prevents nearly all AChR function. Both membrane-permeable ligands like nicotine and much less permeable quaternary amine cholinergic ligands can act as pharmacological chaperones within the endoplasmatic reticulum to promote the assembly of AChRs. Agonists are more potent pharmacological chaperones than antagonists, presumably because activated or desensitized conformations assemble more efficiently. Assembly intermediates are disrupted by solubilization in Triton X-100, but chemical cross-linking stabilizes a putative assembly intermediate approximately the size of an alpha4beta2alpha4beta2 tetramer.

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