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J Mol Neurosci. 2006;30(1-2):149-52.

Nicotinic signal transduction machinery.

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Division of Biological Sciences; University of California-San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0357, USA.


Nicotinic synapses employ acetylcholine to activate ligand-gated ion channels that are cation-selective in vertebrates. Although the resulting nicotinic cholinergic transmission is famously excitatory at the neuromuscular junction, it plays many additional roles in the CNS. Most prevalent is that of modulation, usually involving calcium and signal transduction. Because of this, it is becoming increasingly important not only to understand the mechanisms that guide nicotinic receptors to appropriate locations but also to identify the postsynaptic machinery making possible the requisite signal transduction. Clearly, the kinds of components tethered in the vicinity of the receptor will assume a major role in determining the consequences of receptor activation. One of the most abundant and interesting nicotinic receptors in this respect is the species comprised of the alpha7 gene product (Broide and Leslie, 1999). These alpha7 homopentameric nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (alpha7 nAChRs) have a high relative permeability to calcium, rivaling that of NMDA receptors. But unlike NMDA receptors, alpha7 nAChRs promote calcium influx without requiring a coincident event such as membrane depolarization. As a result, the receptors are well equipped to regulate calcium-dependent events in neurons, particularly when depolarization might be occluded.

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