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PLoS One. 2017 Aug 10;12(8):e0181936. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0181936. eCollection 2017.

Calcium imaging with genetically encoded sensor Case12: Facile analysis of α7/α9 nAChR mutants.

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Department of Molecular Basis of Neurosignalling, Shemyakin-Ovchinnikov Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia.
Department of Biochemistry I, Ruhr University Bochum, Bochum, Germany.


Elucidation of the structural basis of pharmacological differences for highly homologous α7 and α9 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) may shed light on their involvement in different physiological functions and diseases. Combination of site-directed mutagenesis and electrophysiology is a powerful tool to pinpoint the key amino-acid residues in the receptor ligand-binding site, but for α7 and α9 nAChRs it is complicated by their poor expression and fast desensitization. Here, we probed the ligand-binding properties of α7/α9 nAChR mutants by a proposed simple and fast calcium imaging method. The method is based on transient co-expression of α7/α9 nAChR mutants in neuroblastoma cells together with Ric-3 or NACHO chaperones and Case12 fluorescent calcium ion sensor followed by analysis of their pharmacology using a fluorescence microscope or a fluorometric imaging plate reader (FLIPR) with a GFP filter set. The results obtained were confirmed by electrophysiology and by calcium imaging with the conventional calcium indicator Fluo-4. The affinities for acetylcholine and epibatidine were determined for human and rat α7 nAChRs, and for their mutants with homologous residues of α9 nAChR incorporated at positions 117-119, 184, 185, 187, and 189, which are anticipated to be involved in ligand binding. The strongest decrease in the affinity was observed for mutations at positions 187 and 119. The L119D mutation of α7 nAChR, showing a larger effect for epibatidine than for acetylcholine, may implicate this position in pharmacological differences between α7 and α9 nAChRs.

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