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Neuromolecular Med. 2013 Sep;15(3):549-69. doi: 10.1007/s12017-013-8242-1. Epub 2013 Jul 11.

Nicotine prevents synaptic impairment induced by amyloid-β oligomers through α7-nicotinic acetylcholine receptor activation.

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Centro de Envejecimiento y Regeneración (CARE), Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, PO Box 114-D, Santiago, Chile.


An emerging view on Alzheimer disease's (AD) pathogenesis considers amyloid-β (Aβ) oligomers as a key factor in synaptic impairment and rodent spatial memory decline. Alterations in the α7-nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (α7-nAChR) have been implicated in AD pathology. Herein, we report that nicotine, an unselective α7-nAChR agonist, protects from morphological and synaptic impairments induced by Aβ oligomers. Interestingly, nicotine prevents both early postsynaptic impairment and late presynaptic damage induced by Aβ oligomers through the α7-nAChR/phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase (PI3K) signaling pathway. On the other hand, a cross-talk between α7-nAChR and the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway was revealed by the following facts: (1) nicotine stabilizes β-catenin, in a concentration-dependent manner; (2) nicotine prevents Aβ-induced loss of β-catenin through the α7-nAChR; and (3) activation of canonical Wnt/β-catenin signaling induces α7-nAChR expression. Analysis of the α7-nAChR promoter indicates that this receptor is a new Wnt target gene. Taken together, these results demonstrate that nicotine prevents memory deficits and synaptic impairment induced by Aβ oligomers. In addition, nicotine improves memory in young APP/PS1 transgenic mice before extensive amyloid deposition and senile plaque development, and also in old mice where senile plaques have already formed. Activation of the α7-nAChR/PI3K signaling pathway and its cross-talk with the Wnt signaling pathway might well be therapeutic targets for potential AD treatments.

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