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Neuropharmacology. 2012 Sep;63(4):538-46. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2012.04.035. Epub 2012 May 11.

Use of an α3β4 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunit concatamer to characterize ganglionic receptor subtypes with specific subunit composition reveals species-specific pharmacologic properties.

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Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, University of Florida College of Medicine, P.O. Box 100267, Gainesville, FL 32610-0267, USA.


Drug development for nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR) is challenged by subtype diversity arising from variations in subunit composition. On-target activity for neuronal heteromeric receptors is typically associated with CNS receptors that contain α4 and other subunits, while off-target activity could be associated with ganglionic-type receptors containing α3β4 binding sites and other subunits, including β4, β2, α5, or α3 as a structural subunit in the pentamer. Additional interest in α3 β4 α5-containing receptors arises from genome-wide association studies linking these genes, and a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in α5 in particular, to lung cancer and heavy smoking. While α3 and β4 readily form receptors in expression system such as the Xenopus oocyte, since α5 is not required for function, simple co-expression approaches may under-represent α5-containing receptors. We used a concatamer of human α3 and β4 subunits to form ligand-binding domains, and show that we can force the insertions of alternative structural subunits into the functional pentamers. These α3β4 variants differ in sensitivity to ACh, nicotine, varenicline, and cytisine. Our data indicated lower efficacy for varenicline and cytisine than expected for β4-containing receptors, based on previous studies of rodent receptors. We confirm that these therapeutically important α4 receptor partial agonists may present different autonomic-based side-effect profiles in humans than will be seen in rodent models, with varenicline being more potent for human than rat receptors and cytisine less potent. Our initial characterizations failed to find functional effects of the α5 SNP. However, our data validate this approach for further investigations.

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