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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 May 18;107(20):9440-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0914801107. Epub 2010 May 3.

The M3-muscarinic receptor regulates learning and memory in a receptor phosphorylation/arrestin-dependent manner.

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Department of Cell Physiology and Pharmacology and Protein and Nucleic Acid Chemistry Laboratory, University of Leicester, Leicester LE1 9HN, United Kingdom.


Degeneration of the cholinergic system is considered to be the underlying pathology that results in the cognitive deficit in Alzheimer's disease. This pathology is thought to be linked to a loss of signaling through the cholinergic M(1)-muscarinic receptor subtype. However, recent studies have cast doubt on whether this is the primary receptor mediating cholinergic-hippocampal learning and memory. The current study offers an alternative mechanism involving the M(3)-muscarinic receptor that is expressed in numerous brain regions including the hippocampus. We demonstrate here that M(3)-muscarinic receptor knockout mice show a deficit in fear conditioning learning and memory. The mechanism used by the M(3)-muscarinic receptor in this process involves receptor phosphorylation because a knockin mouse strain expressing a phosphorylation-deficient receptor mutant also shows a deficit in fear conditioning. Consistent with a role for receptor phosphorylation, we demonstrate that the M(3)-muscarinic receptor is phosphorylated in the hippocampus following agonist treatment and following fear conditioning training. Importantly, the phosphorylation-deficient M(3)-muscarinic receptor was coupled normally to G(q/11)-signaling but was uncoupled from phosphorylation-dependent processes such as receptor internalization and arrestin recruitment. It can, therefore, be concluded that M(3)-muscarinic receptor-dependent learning and memory depends, at least in part, on receptor phosphorylation/arrestin signaling. This study opens the potential for biased M(3)-muscarinic receptor ligands that direct phosphorylation/arrestin-dependent (non-G protein) signaling as being beneficial in cognitive disorders.

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