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Nature. 1986 Jan 30-Feb 5;319(6052):405-7.

Acetylcholine hyperpolarizes central neurones by acting on an M2 muscarinic receptor.


Acetylcholine (ACh) is considered to act as a neurotransmitter in the mammalian brain by binding to membrane receptors and bringing about a change in neurone excitability. In the case of muscarinic receptors, cell excitability is usually increased; this effect results from a closure of membrane potassium channels in cortical cells. However, some central neurones are inhibited by ACh, and we hypothesized that these two opposite effects of ACh resulted from interactions with different subtypes of muscarinic receptor. We made intracellular recordings from neurones in the rat nucleus parabrachialis, a group of neurones in the upper pons some of which themselves synthesize ACh. ACh and muscarine caused a membrane hyperpolarization which resulted from an increase in the membrane conductance to potassium ions. The muscarinic receptor subtype was characterized by determining the dissociation equilibrium constant (KD) for pirenzepine during the intracellular recording; the value of approximately 600 nM indicates a receptor in the M2 class. This muscarinic receptor is quite different from that which brings about a decrease in potassium conductance in other neurones, which has a pirenzepine KD of approximately 10 nM (M1 receptors). It is possible that antagonists selective for this kind of M2 receptor would be useful in the management of conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease, which are associated with a reduced effectiveness of cholinergic neurones.

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