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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Jun 22;107(25):11567-72. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1006269107. Epub 2010 Jun 7.

Alterations of cortical pyramidal neurons in mice lacking high-affinity nicotinic receptors.

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Instituto Cajal (CSIC), 28002 Madrid, Spain.


The neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are allosteric membrane proteins involved in multiple cognitive processes, including attention, learning, and memory. The most abundant form of heterooligomeric nAChRs in the brain contains the beta2- and alpha4- subunits and binds nicotinic agonists with high affinity. In the present study, we investigated in the mouse the consequences of the deletion of one of the nAChR components: the beta2-subunit (beta2(-/-)) on the microanatomy of cortical pyramidal cells. Using an intracellular injection method, complete basal dendritic arbors of 650 layer III pyramidal neurons were sampled from seven cortical fields, including primary sensory, motor, and associational areas, in both beta2(-/-) and WT animals. We observed that the pyramidal cell phenotype shows significant quantitative differences among different cortical areas in mutant and WT mice. In WT mice, the density of dendritic spines was rather similar in all cortical fields, except in the prelimbic/infralimbic cortex, where it was significantly higher. In the absence of the beta2-subunit, the most significant reduction in the density of spines took place in this high-order associational field. Our data suggest that the beta2-subunit is involved in the dendritic morphogenesis of pyramidal neurons and, in particular, in the circuits that contribute to the high-order functional connectivity of the cerebral cortex.

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