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J Biol Chem. 2004 Sep 3;279(36):38007-15. Epub 2004 Jul 9.

Nicotine-induced up-regulation and desensitization of alpha4beta2 neuronal nicotinic receptors depend on subunit ratio.

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University of Puerto Rico, Department of Biology, P.O. Box 23360, San Juan, Puerto Rico 00931-3360.


Desensitization induced by chronic nicotine exposure has been hypothesized to trigger the up-regulation of the alpha4beta2 neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) in the central nervous system. We studied the effect of acute and chronic nicotine exposure on the desensitization and up-regulation of different alpha4beta2 subunit ratios (1alpha:4beta, 2alpha:3beta, and 4alpha:1beta) expressed in Xenopus oocytes. The presence of alpha4 subunit in the oocyte plasmatic membrane increased linearly with the amount of alpha4 mRNA injected. nAChR function and expression were assessed during acute and after chronic nicotine exposure using a two-electrode voltage clamp and whole-mount immunofluorescence assay along with confocal imaging for the detection of the alpha4 subunit. The 2alpha4:3beta2 subunit ratio displayed the highest ACh sensitivity. Nicotine dose-response curves for the 1alpha4:4beta2 and 2alpha4:3beta2 subunit ratios displayed a biphasic behavior at concentrations ranging from 0.1 to 300 microm. A biphasic curve for 4alpha4:1beta2 was obtained at nicotine concentrations higher than 300 microm. The 1alpha4:4beta2 subunit ratio exhibited the lowest ACh- and nicotine-induced macroscopic current, whereas 4alpha4:1beta2 presented the largest currents at all agonist concentrations tested. Desensitization by acute nicotine exposure was more evident as the ratio of beta2:alpha4 subunits increased. All three alpha4beta2 subunit ratios displayed a reduced state of activation after chronic nicotine exposure. Chronic nicotine-induced up-regulation was obvious only for the 2alpha4: 3beta2 subunit ratio. Our data suggest that the subunit ratio of alpha4beta2 determines the functional state of activation, desensitization, and up-regulation of this neuronal nAChR. We propose that independent structural sites regulate alpha4beta2 receptor activation and desensitization.

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