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1.  Free-energy Landscapes of Ion-channel Gating Are Malleable: changes in the number of bound ligands are accompanied by changes in the location of the transition state in acetylcholine-receptor channels† 
Biochemistry  2003;42(50):14977-14987.
Acetylcholine-receptor channels (AChRs) are allosteric membrane proteins that mediate synaptic transmission by alternatively opening and closing (‘gating’) a cation-selective transmembrane pore. Although ligand binding is not required for the channel to open, the binding of agonists (for example, acetylcholine) increases the closed ⇌ open equilibrium constant because the ion-impermeable → ion-permeable transition of the ion pathway is accompanied by a low → high affinity change at the agonist-binding sites. The fact that the gating conformational change of muscle AChRs can be kinetically modeled as a two-state reaction has paved the way to the experimental characterization of the corresponding transition state, which represents a snapshot of the continuous sequence of molecular events separating the closed and open states. Previous studies of fully (di-) liganded AChRs, combining single-channel kinetic measurements, site-directed mutagenesis, and data analysis in the framework of the linear free-energy relationships of physical organic chemistry, have suggested a transition-state structure that is consistent with channel opening being an asynchronous conformational change that starts at the extracellular agonist-binding sites and propagates towards the intracellular end of the pore. In this paper, I characterize the gating transition state of unliganded AChRs, and report a remarkable difference: unlike that of diliganded gating, the unliganded transition state is not a hybrid of the closed- and open-state structures but, rather, is almost indistinguishable from the open state itself. This displacement of the transition state along the reaction coordinate obscures the mechanism underlying the unliganded closed ⇌ open reaction but brings to light the malleable nature of free-energy landscapes of ion-channel gating.
The muscle acetylcholine receptor channel (AChR)1 is the neurotransmitter-gated ion channel that mediates neuromuscular synaptic transmission in vertebrates (1). Although the structure of this large pentameric transmembrane protein (∼470 residues per subunit) is not known with atomic resolution, a wealth of structural information exists, mainly from mutational studies, affinity labeling, chemical modification of specific residues, electron microscopy, and crystallography (reviewed in ref. 2). As is the case of any other allosteric protein, the dynamic behavior of this receptor-channel can be understood in the framework of thermodynamic cycles, with conformational changes and ligand-binding events as the elementary steps (3-5). Thus, the AChR can adopt a variety of different conformations that can interconvert (closed, open, and desensitized ‘states’), and each conformation has a distinct ligand-binding affinity (low affinity in the closed state and high affinity in the open and desensitized states) and a particular ‘catalytic efficiency’ (ion-impermeable in the closed and desensitized states, and ion-permeable in the open state). To meet the physiological requirement of a small closed ⇌ open (‘gating’) equilibrium constant for the unliganded receptor, and a large gating equilibrium constant for the ACh-diliganded receptor, the affinity of the AChR for ACh must be higher in the open than in the closed conformation (4-6). This follows from the notion that the equilibrium constants governing the different reaction steps (ligand binding and gating) of these cyclic reaction schemes are constrained by the principle of detailed balance.
Hence, irrespective of whether the receptor is diliganded, monoliganded or unliganded, two changes must take place in going from the closed state (low ligand affinity and ion-impermeable) to the open state (high ligand affinity and ion-permeable): a) the pore becomes permeable to ions, and b) the transmitter-binding sites, some 50 Å away from the pore domain (7), increase their affinity for the ligand (with the reverse changes taking place during closing). The apparent lack of stable intermediates between the closed and open conformations, inferred from kinetic modeling of the diliganded-gating reaction (8), suggests that these two changes occur as a result of a one-step, global conformational change. The question, then, arises as to whether this concerted conformational change proceeds synchronously (i.e., every residue of the protein moves ‘in unison’) or asynchronously (i.e., following a sequence of events; ref. 9) and, if the latter were the case, whether multiple, few, or just one sequence of events is actually traversed by the channel to ‘connect’ the end states.
Analysis of the correlation between rate and equilibrium constants of gating in diliganded AChRs has allowed us to address some of these issues by probing the structure of the transition state (8, 10-12), that is, the intermediate species between the end states of a one-step reaction that can be most easily studied. Interpretation of these results in the framework of the classical rate-equilibrium free-energy relationships of physical organic chemistry (13, 14), revealed that AChR diliganded gating is a highly asynchronous reaction, and suggested that the transition-state ensemble is quite homogeneous, as if the crossing of the energy barrier were confined to a narrow pass at the top of the energy landscape. In the opening direction, the conformational rearrangement that leads to the low-to-high affinity change at the extracellular binding sites precedes the conformational rearrangement of the pore that renders the channel ion-permeable. This propagated global conformational change, which we have referred to as a ‘conformational wave’ (11), must reverse during channel closing so that closing starts at the pore and propagates all the way to the binding sites.
It is not at all obvious why the diliganded-gating conformational change starts at the binding sites when the channel opens, nor even why the conformational change propagates at all through the receptor, instead of taking place synchronously throughout the protein. Is there any correlation between the location of the domain that binds agonist and the location of the initiation site for the opening conformational change? Could the latter have started from the intracellular end of the pore, for example, and have propagated to the (extracellular) transmitter-binding sites? What difference does it make to be liganded or unliganded as far as the mechanism of the gating conformational change is concerned? To address these issues, I set out to explore the mechanism of gating in unliganded AChRs by probing the structure of the corresponding transition state using kinetic measurements, site-directed mutagenesis, and the concepts of rate-equilibrium free-energy relationships and Φ-value analysis.
Briefly, a Φ-value can be assigned to any position in the protein by estimating the slope of a ‘Brönsted plot’2 [log (gating rate constant) versus log (gating equilibrium constant)] where each point corresponds to a different amino-acid substitution at that given position. More coarsegrained Φ-values can also be obtained by using different agonists or different transmembrane potentials, for example, as a means of altering the rate and equilibrium constants of gating. Very often, rate-equilibrium plots are linear, and 0 < Φ < 1. A value of Φ = 0 suggests that the position in question (in the case of a mutation series) experiences a closed-state-like environment at the transition state whereas a value of Φ = 1 suggests an open-state-like environment. A fractional Φ-value suggests an environment that is intermediate between those experienced in the closed and open states (16).
Earlier results indicated that the Φ-values obtained by varying the transmembrane potential are different in diliganded and unliganded AChRs. These Φ-values, which are a measure of the closed-state-like versus open-state-like character of the channel’s voltage-sensing elements at the transition state, are 0.070 ± 0.060 in diliganded receptors (17), and 1.025 ± 0.053 in unliganded AChRs (11, 18). The present study reveals that residues at the transmitter-binding sites (Figure 1), the extracellular loop that links the second (M2) and third (M3) transmembrane segments (M2-M3 linker), and the upper and lower half of M2, which during diliganded gating have Φ-values of ∼1 (ref. 11), ∼0.7 (ref. 10), ∼0.35 (refs 8, 11, 12), and ∼0 (ref. 12), respectively, have also Φ-values very close to 1 during unliganded gating. This generalized shift in Φ-values suggests that the diliganded → unliganded perturbation deforms the energy landscape of gating in such a way that the ‘new’ transition state occurs very close to the open state, to such an extent that all tested positions experience an open-state-like environment at the transition state of unliganded gating. Thus, the transition state occurs so ‘late’ (i.e., so close to the open state) that its inferred structure does not provide any clues as to the intermediate stages of this reaction.
Hence, the mechanism of unliganded gating remains obscure. The change in the position of the transition state along a reaction coordinate, as a result of perturbations to the energy landscape, is a very well known phenomenon in organic chemistry (e.g., refs 20-26), and protein folding (e.g., refs 27-34). In this paper, I show that this phenomenon can also take place in the case of allosteric transitions and, therefore, that the structure of the transition state of a global conformational change need not be fixed; rather, it can change depending on the experimental conditions.
PMCID: PMC1463891  PMID: 14674774
2.  Activation of endplate nicotinic acetylcholine receptors by agonists 
Biochemical pharmacology  2015;97(4):601-608.
The interaction of a small molecule made in one cell with a large receptor made in another is the signature event of cell signaling. Understanding the structure and energy changes associated with agonist activation is important for engineering drugs, receptors and synapses. The nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (AChR) is a ~300 kD ion channel that binds the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh) and other cholinergic agonists to elicit electrical responses in the central and peripheral nervous systems. This mini-review is in two sections. First, general concepts of skeletal muscle AChR operation are discussed in terms of energy landscapes for conformational change. Second, adult vs. fetal AChRs are compared with regard to interaction energies between ACh and agonist-site side chains, measured by single-channel electrophysiology and molecular dynamics simulations. The five aromatic residues that form the core of each agonist binding site can be divided into two working groups, a triad (led by αY190) that behaves similarly at all sites and a coupled pair (led by γW55) that has a large influence on affinity only in fetal AChRs.
Each endplate AChR has 5 homologous subunits, two of α(1) and one each of β, δ and either γ (fetal) or ε (adult). These nicotinic AChRs have only 2 functional agonist binding sites located in the extracellular domain, at αδ and either αγ or αε subunit interfaces. The receptor undergoes a reversible, global isomerization between structures called C and O. The C shape does not conduct ions and has a relatively low affinity for ACh, whereas O conducts cations and has a higher affinity. When both agonist sites are empty (filled only with water) the probability of taking on the O conformation (PO) is low, <10−6. When ACh molecules occupy the agonist sites the C→O opening rate constant and C↔O gating equilibrium constant increase dramatically. Following a pulse of ACh at the nerve-muscle synapse, the endplate current rises rapidly to reach a peak that corresponds to PO ~0.96.
PMCID: PMC4600445  PMID: 26206191
nicotinic; acetylcholine; neuromuscular; allosteric; gating; binding
3.  Myasthenogenicity of the main immunogenic region and endogenous muscle nicotinic acetylcholine receptors 
Autoimmunity  2011;45(3):245-252.
In myasthenia gravis (MG) and experimental autoimmune MG (EAMG) many pathologically significant autoantibodies are directed at the main immunogenic region (MIR), a conformation-dependent region at the extracellular tip of α1 subunits of muscle nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (AChRs). Human muscle AChR α1 MIR sequences were integrated into Aplysia ACh binding protein (AChBP). The chimera was potent at inducing both acute and chronic EAMG, though less potent than Torpedo electric organ AChR. Wild-type AChBP also induced EAMG but was less potent, and weakness developed slowly without an acute phase. AChBP is more closely related in sequence to neuronal α7 AChRs which are also homomeric, however autoimmune responses were induced to muscle AChR, but not to neuronal AChR subtypes. The greater accessibility of muscle AChRs to antibodies, compared to neuronal AChRs, may allow muscle AChRs to induce self-sustaining autoimmune responses. The human α1 subunit MIR is a potent immunogen for producing pathologically significant autoantibodies. Additional epitopes in this region or other parts of the AChR extracellular domain contribute significantly to myasthenogenicity. We show that an AChR-related protein can induce EAMG. Thus, in principle, an AChR-related protein could induce MG. AChBP is a water soluble protein resembling the extracellular domain of AChRs, yet rats which developed EAMG had autoantibodies to AChR cytoplasmic domains. We propose that an initial autoimmune response, directed at the MIR on the extracellular surface of muscle AChRs, leads to an autoimmune response sustained by muscle AChRs. Autoimmune stimulation sustained by endogenous muscle AChR may be a target for specific immunosuppression.
PMCID: PMC3250566  PMID: 21950318
myasthenia gravis; autoantibodies; AChBP; AChR; MIR
4.  Interaction of Bupropion with Muscle-Type Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors in Different Conformational States† 
Biochemistry  2009;48(21):4506-4518.
To characterize the binding sites and the mechanisms of inhibition of bupropion on muscle-type nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (AChRs), structural and functional approaches were used. The results established that bupropion: (a) inhibits epibatidine-induced Ca2+ influx in embryonic muscle AChRs, (b) inhibits adult muscle AChR macroscopic currents in the resting/activatable state with ~100-fold higher potency compared to that in the open state, (c) increases desensitization rate of adult muscle AChRs from the open state and impairs channel opening from the resting state, (d) inhibits [3H]TCP and [3H]imipramine binding to the desensitized/carbamylcholine-bound Torpedo AChR with higher affinity compared to the resting/α-bungarotoxin-bound AChR, (e) binds to the Torpedo AChR in either state mainly by an entropy–driven process, and (f) interacts with a binding domain located between the serine (position 6’) and valine (position 13’) rings, by a network of van der Waals, hydrogen bond, and polar interactions. Collectively our data indicate that bupropion first binds to the resting AChR, decreasing the probability of ion channel opening. The remnant fraction of open ion channels is subsequently decreased by accelerating the desensitization process. Bupropion interacts with a luminal binding domain shared with PCP that is located between the serine and valine rings, and this interaction is mediated mainly by an entropy-driven process.
PMCID: PMC2756054  PMID: 19334677
5.  Selective effect of the anthelmintic bephenium on Haemonchus contortus levamisole-sensitive acetylcholine receptors 
Invertebrate Neuroscience  2012;12(1):43-51.
Acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) are pentameric ligand-gated ion channels involved in the neurotransmission of both vertebrates and invertebrates. A number of anthelmintic compounds like levamisole and pyrantel target the AChRs of nematodes producing spastic paralysis of the worms. The muscle AChRs of nematode parasites fall into three pharmacological classes that are preferentially activated by the cholinergic agonists levamisole (L-type), nicotine (N-type) and bephenium (B-type), respectively. Despite a number of studies of the B-type AChR in parasitic species, this receptor remains to be characterized at the molecular level. Recently, we have reconstituted and functionally characterized two distinct L-AChR subtypes of the gastro-intestinal parasitic nematode Haemonchus contortus in the Xenopus laevis oocyte expression system by providing the cRNAs encoding the receptor subunits and three ancillary proteins (Boulin et al. in Br J Pharmacol 164(5):1421–1432, 2011). In the present study, the effect of the bephenium drug on Hco-L-AChR1 and Hco-L-AChR2 subtypes was examined using the two microelectrode voltage-clamp technique. We demonstrate that bephenium selectively activates the Hco-L-AChR1 subtype made of Hco-UNC-29.1, Hco-UNC-38, Hco-UNC-63, Hco-ACR-8 subunits that is more sensitive to levamisole than acetylcholine. Removing the Hco-ACR-8 subunit produced the Hco-L-AChR2 subtype that is more sensitive to pyrantel than acetylcholine and partially activated by levamisole, but which was bephenium-insensitive indicating that the bephenium-binding site involves Hco-ACR-8. Attempts were made to modify the subunit stoichiometry of the Hco-L-AChR1 subtype by injecting five fold more cRNA of individual subunits. Increased Hco-unc-29.1 cRNA produced no functional receptor. Increasing Hco-unc-63, Hco-unc-38 or Hco-acr-8 cRNAs did not affect the pharmacological characteristics of Hco-L-AChR1 but reduced the currents elicited by acetylcholine and the other agonists. Here, we provide the first description of the molecular composition and functional characteristics of any invertebrate bephenium-sensitive receptor.
PMCID: PMC3362318  PMID: 22526556
Bephenium; Levamisole-sensitive acetylcholine receptor; Oocyte expression system; Electrophysiology; Haemonchus contortus
6.  Mechanosensitivity of nicotinic receptors 
Pflugers Archiv  2012;464(2):193-203.
Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are heteropentameric ligand-gated ion channels that mediate excitatory neurotransmission at the neuromuscular junction (NMJ) and other peripheral and central synapses. At the NMJ, acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) are constantly exposed to mechanical stress resulting from muscle contraction. It is therefore of interest to understand if their function is influenced by mechanical stimuli. In this study, patch-clamp recordings showed that AChR channel activity was enhanced upon membrane stretching in both cultured Xenopus muscle cells and C2C12 myotubes. To examine how this property is physiologically regulated, effects of membrane-intrinsic and membrane-extrinsic factors on AChRs expressed in HEK293T cells were studied. As in muscle cells, AChR single channel currents recorded under cell-attached configuration were significantly increased—without change in current amplitude—when negative pressure was applied through the patch pipette. GsMTx-4, a peptide toxin that blocks mechanically activated cation channels, inhibited this effect on AChRs. The mechanosensitivity decreased when cells were treated with MβCD, latrunculin A or cytochalasin D, but increased when exposed to lysophosphatidylcholine, indicating contributions from both membrane lipids and the cytoskeleton. Rapsyn, which binds to AChRs and mediates their cytoskeletal interaction in muscle, suppressed AChR mechanosensitivity when co-expressed in HEK293T cells, but this influence of rapsyn was impaired following the deletion of rapsyn’s AChR-binding domain or upon cytoskeletal disruption by cytochalasin D. These results suggest a mechanism for regulating AChR’s mechanosensitivity through its cytoskeletal linkage via rapsyn, which may serve to protect the receptors and sarcolemmal integrity under high mechanical stress encountered by the NMJ.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00424-012-1132-9) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC3395360  PMID: 22733356
Acetylcholine receptor; Mechanosensitivity; Rapsyn; Neuromuscular junction
7.  Gating Dynamics of the Acetylcholine Receptor Extracellular Domain 
The Journal of General Physiology  2004;123(4):341-356.
We used single-channel recording and model-based kinetic analyses to quantify the effects of mutations in the extracellular domain (ECD) of the α-subunit of mouse muscle–type acetylcholine receptors (AChRs). The crystal structure of an acetylcholine binding protein (AChBP) suggests that the ECD is comprised of a β-sandwich core that is surrounded by loops. Here we focus on loops 2 and 7, which lie at the interface of the AChR extracellular and transmembrane domains. Side chain substitutions in these loops primarily affect channel gating by either decreasing or increasing the gating equilibrium constant. Many of the mutations to the β-core prevent the expression of functional AChRs, but of the mutants that did express almost all had wild-type behavior. Rate-equilibrium free energy relationship analyses reveal the presence of two contiguous, distinct synchronously-gating domains in the α-subunit ECD that move sequentially during the AChR gating reaction. The transmitter-binding site/loop 5 domain moves first (Φ = 0.93) and is followed by the loop 2/loop 7 domain (Φ = 0.80). These movements precede that of the extracellular linker (Φ = 0.69). We hypothesize that AChR gating occurs as the stepwise movements of such domains that link the low-to-high affinity conformational change in the TBS with the low-to-high conductance conformational change in the pore.
PMCID: PMC2217457  PMID: 15051806
nicotinic; single channel; kinetics; REFER
8.  Interaction of ibogaine with human α3β4-nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in different conformational states 
The interaction of ibogaine and phencyclidine (PCP) with human (h) α3β4-nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) in different conformational states was determined by functional and structural approaches including, radioligand binding assays, Ca2+ influx detections, and thermodynamic and kinetics measurements. The results established that (a) ibogaine inhibits (±)-epibatidine-induced Ca2+ influx in hα3β4 AChRs with ~9-fold higher potency than that for PCP, (b) [3H]ibogaine binds to a single site in the hα3β4 AChR ion channel with relatively high affinity (Kd = 0.46 ± 0.06 µM), and ibogaine inhibits [3H]ibogaine binding to the desensitized hα3β4 AChR with slightly higher affinity compared to the resting AChR. This is explained by a slower dissociation rate from the desensitized ion channel compared to the resting ion channel, and (c) PCP inhibits [3H]ibogaine binding to the hα3β4 AChR, suggesting overlapping sites. The experimental results correlate with the docking simulations suggesting that ibogaine and PCP interact with a binding domain located between the serine (position 6′) and valine/phenylalanine (position 13′) rings. This interaction is mediated mainly by van der Waals contacts, which is in agreement with the observed enthalpic contribution determined by non-linear chromatography. However, the calculated entropic contribution also indicates local conformational changes. Collectively our data suggest that ibogaine and PCP bind to overlapping sites located between the serine and valine/phenylalanine rings, to finally block the AChR ion channel, and in the case of ibogaine, to probably maintain the AChR in the desensitized state for longer time.
PMCID: PMC4609575  PMID: 20684041
Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors; Conformational states; Noncompetitive antagonists; Ibogaine; Phencyclidine
9.  Nicotinic Receptor Fourth Transmembrane Domain 
The Journal of General Physiology  2000;115(5):663-672.
The fourth transmembrane domain (M4) of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (AChR) contributes to the kinetics of activation, yet its close association with the lipid bilayer makes it the outermost of the transmembrane domains. To investigate mechanistic and structural contributions of M4 to AChR activation, we systematically mutated αT422, a conserved residue that has been labeled by hydrophobic probes, and evaluated changes in rate constants underlying ACh binding and channel gating steps. Aromatic and nonpolar mutations of αT422 selectively affect the channel gating step, slowing the rate of opening two- to sevenfold, and speeding the rate of closing four- to ninefold. Additionally, kinetic modeling shows a second doubly liganded open state for aromatic and nonpolar mutations. In contrast, serine and asparagine mutations of αT422 largely preserve the kinetics of the wild-type AChR. Thus, rapid and efficient gating of the AChR channel depends on a hydrogen bond involving the side chain at position 422 of the M4 transmembrane domain.
PMCID: PMC2217218  PMID: 10779322
patch clamp; kinetic analysis; nicotinic acetylcholine receptor channel gating; fourth transmembrane domain; hydrogen bond
10.  Decremental Response to High-Frequency Trains of Acetylcholine Pulses but Unaltered Fractional Ca2+ Currents in a Panel of “Slow-Channel Syndrome” Nicotinic Receptor Mutants 
The Journal of General Physiology  2009;133(2):151-169.
The slow-channel congenital myasthenic syndrome (SCCMS) is a disorder of the neuromuscular junction caused by gain-of-function mutations to the muscle nicotinic acetylcholine (ACh) receptor (AChR). Although it is clear that the slower deactivation time course of the ACh-elicited currents plays a central role in the etiology of this disease, it has been suggested that other abnormal properties of these mutant receptors may also be critical in this respect. We characterized the kinetics of a panel of five SCCMS AChRs (αS269I, βV266M, εL221F, εT264P, and εL269F) at the ensemble level in rapidly perfused outside-out patches. We found that, for all of these mutants, the peak-current amplitude decreases along trains of nearly saturating ACh pulses delivered at physiologically relevant frequencies in a manner that is consistent with enhanced entry into desensitization during the prolonged deactivation phase. This suggests that the increasingly reduced availability of activatable AChRs upon repetitive stimulation may well contribute to the fatigability and weakness of skeletal muscle that characterize this disease. Also, these results emphasize the importance of explicitly accounting for entry into desensitization as one of the pathways for burst termination, if meaningful mechanistic insight is to be inferred from the study of the effect of these naturally occurring mutations on channel function. Applying a novel single-channel–based approach to estimate the contribution of Ca2+ to the total cation currents, we also found that none of these mutants affects the Ca2+-conduction properties of the AChR to an extent that seems to be of physiological importance. Our estimate of the Ca2+-carried component of the total (inward) conductance of wild-type and SCCMS AChRs in the presence of 150 mM Na+, 1.8 mM Ca2+, and 1.7 mM Mg2+ on the extracellular side of cell-attached patches turned out be in the 5.0–9.4 pS range, representing a fractional Ca2+ current of ∼14%, on average. Remarkably, these values are nearly identical to those we estimated for the NR1-NR2A N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor (NMDAR), which has generally been considered to be the main neurotransmitter-gated pathway of Ca2+ entry into the cell. Our estimate of the rat NMDAR Ca2+ conductance (using the same single-channel approach as for the AChR but in the nominal absence of extracellular Mg2+) was 7.9 pS, corresponding to a fractional Ca2+ current of 13%.
PMCID: PMC2638206  PMID: 19171769
11.  How Myasthenia Gravis Alters the Safety Factor for Neuromuscular Transmission 
Journal of neuroimmunology  2008;201-202:13-20.
Myasthenia gravis (MG), the most common of autoimmune myasthenic syndromes, is characterized by antibodies directed against the skeletal muscle acetylcholine receptors (AChRs). Endplate Na+ channels ensure the efficiency of neuromuscular transmission by reducing the threshold depolarization needed to trigger an action potential. Postsynaptic AChRs and voltage-gated Na+ channels are both lost from the neuromuscular junction in MG. This study examined the impact of postsynaptic voltage-gated Na+ channel loss on the safety factor for neuromuscular transmission. In intercostal nerve-muscle preparations from MG patients, we found that endplate AChR loss decreases the size of the endplate potential, and endplate Na+ channel loss increases the threshold depolarization needed to produce a muscle action potential. To evaluate whether AChR-specific antibody impairs the function of Na+ channels, we tested omohyoid nerve-muscle preparations from rats injected with monoclonal myasthenogenic IgG (passive transfer model of MG [PTMG]). The AChR antibody that produces PTMG did not alter the function of Na+ channels. We conclude that loss of endplate Na+ channels in MG is due to complement-mediated loss of endplate membrane rather than a direct effect of myasthenogenic antibodies on endplate Na+ channels.
PMCID: PMC2646503  PMID: 18632162
12.  The Role of Loop 5 in Acetylcholine Receptor Channel Gating 
The Journal of General Physiology  2003;122(5):521-539.
Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor channel (AChR) gating is an organized sequence of molecular motions that couples a change in the affinity for ligands at the two transmitter binding sites with a change in the ionic conductance of the pore. Loop 5 (L5) is a nine-residue segment (mouse α-subunit 92–100) that links the β4 and β5 strands of the extracellular domain and that (in the α-subunit) contains binding segment A. Based on the structure of the acetylcholine binding protein, we speculate that in AChRs L5 projects from the transmitter binding site toward the membrane along a subunit interface. We used single-channel kinetics to quantify the effects of mutations to αD97 and other L5 residues with respect to agonist binding (to both open and closed AChRs), channel gating (for both unliganded and fully-liganded AChRs), and desensitization. Most αD97 mutations increase gating (up to 168-fold) but have little or no effect on ligand binding or desensitization. Rate-equilibrium free energy relationship analysis indicates that αD97 moves early in the gating reaction, in synchrony with the movement of the transmitter binding site (Φ = 0.93, which implies an open-like character at the transition state). αD97 mutations in the two α-subunits have unequal energetic consequences for gating, but their contributions are independent. We conclude that the key, underlying functional consequence of αD97 perturbations is to increase the unliganded gating equilibrium constant. L5 emerges as an important and early link in the AChR gating reaction which, in the absence of agonist, serves to increase the relative stability of the closed conformation of the protein.
PMCID: PMC2229574  PMID: 14557402
nicotinic; single channel; kinetics; synapse; free energy
13.  Aggregating factor from Torpedo electric organ induces patches containing acetylcholine receptors, acetylcholinesterase, and butyrylcholinesterase on cultured myotubes 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1986;102(3):783-794.
A factor in extracts of the electric organ of Torpedo californica causes the formation of clusters of acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) and aggregates of acetylcholinesterase (AChE) on myotubes in culture. In vivo, AChRs and AChE accumulate at the same locations on myofibers, as components of the postsynaptic apparatus at neuromuscular junctions. The aim of this study was to compare the distribution of AChRs, AChE, and butyrylcholinesterase (BuChE), a third component of the postsynaptic apparatus, on control and extract-treated myotubes. Electric organ extracts induced the formation of patches that contained high concentrations of all three molecules. The extract-induced aggregation of AChRs, AChE, and BuChE occurred in defined medium, and these components accumulated in patches simultaneously. Three lines of evidence indicate that a single factor in the extracts induced the aggregation of all three components: the dose dependence for the formation of patches of AChRs was the same as that for patches of AChE and BuChE; the AChE- and BuChE-aggregating activities co-purified with the AChR-aggregating activity; and all three aggregating activities were immunoprecipitated at the same titer by a monoclonal antibody against the AChR-aggregating factor. We have shown previously that this monoclonal antibody binds to molecules concentrated in the synaptic cleft at neuromuscular junctions. Taken together, these results suggest that during development and regeneration of myofibers in vivo, the accumulation at synaptic sites of at least three components of the postsynaptic apparatus, AChRs, AChE, and BuChE, are all triggered by the same molecule, a molecule similar if not identical to the electric organ aggregating factor.
PMCID: PMC2114138  PMID: 3949878
14.  Interaction of 18-methoxycoronaridine with nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in different conformational states 
Biochimica et biophysica acta  2010;1798(6):1153-1163.
The interaction of 18-methoxycoronaridine (18-MC) with nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) was compared with that for ibogaine and phencyclidine (PCP). The results established that 18-MC: (a) is more potent than ibogaine and PCP inhibiting (±)-epibatidine-induced AChR Ca2+ influx. The potency of 18-MC is increased after longer pre-incubation periods, which is in agreement with the enhancement of [3H]cytisine binding to resting but activatable Torpedo AChRs, (b) binds to a single site in the Torpedo AChR with high affinity and inhibits [3H]TCP binding to desensitized AChRs in a steric fashion, suggesting the existence of overlapping sites. This is supported by our docking results indicating that 18-MC interacts with a domain located between the serine (position 6′) and valine (position 13′) rings, and (c) inhibits [3H]TCP, [3H] ibogaine, and [3H]18-MC binding to desensitized AChRs with higher affinity compared to resting AChRs. This can be partially attributed to a slower dissociation rate from the desensitized AChR compared to that from the resting AChR. The enthalpic contribution is more important than the entropic contribution when 18-MC binds to the desensitized AChR compared to that for the resting AChR, and vice versa. Ibogaine analogs inhibit the AChR by interacting with a luminal domain that is shared with PCP, and by inducing desensitization.
PMCID: PMC3787694  PMID: 20303928
Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor; Conformational state; Noncompetitive antagonist; Ibogaine analog; 18-Methoxycoronaridine
15.  Virtual Screening against Acetylcholine Binding Protein 
Journal of biomolecular screening  2011;17(2):204-215.
The nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are a member of the ligand-gated ion channel family and play a key role in the transfer of information across neurological networks. The X-ray crystal structure of agonist-bound α7 acetylcholine binding protein (AChBP) has been recognized as the most appropriate template to model the ligand-binding domain of nAChR for studying the molecular mechanism of the receptor–ligand interactions. Virtual screening of the National Cancer Institute diversity set, a library of 1990 compounds with nonredundant pharmacophore profiles, using AutoDock against AChBPs revealed 51 potential candidates. In vitro radioligand competition assays using [3H] epibatidine against the AChBPs from the freshwater snails, Lymnaea stagnalis, and from the marine species, Aplysia californica and the mutant (AcY55W), revealed seven compounds from the list of candidates that had micromolar to nanomolar affinities for the AChBPs. Further investigation on α7nAChR expressing in Xenopus oocytes and on the recombinant receptors with fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET)–based calcium sensor expressing in HEK cells showed that seven compounds were antagonists of α7nAChR, only one compound (NSC34352) demonstrated partial agonistic effect at low dose (10 μM), and two compounds (NSC36369 and NSC34352) were selective antagonists on α7nAchR with moderate potency. These hits serve as novel templates/scaffolds for development of more potent and specific in the AChR systems.
PMCID: PMC4762448  PMID: 21956172
ligand binding; receptor binding; docking; virtual screening; α7 acetylcholine binding protein
16.  Minor structural changes in nicotinoid insecticides confer differential subtype selectivity for mammalian nicotinic acetylcholine receptors 
British Journal of Pharmacology  1999;127(1):115-122.
The major nitroimine insecticide imidacloprid (IMI) and the nicotinic analgesics epibatidine and ABT-594 contain the 6-chloro-3-pyridinyl moiety important for high activity and/or selectivity. ABT-594 has considerable nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (AChR) subtype specificity which might carry over to the chloropyridinyl insecticides. This study considers nine IMI analogues for selectivity in binding to immuno-isolated α1, α3 and α7 containing nicotinic AChRs and to purported α4β2 nicotinic AChRs.α1- and α3-Containing nicotinic AChRs (both immuno-isolated by mAb 35, from Torpedo and human neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y cells, respectively) are between two and four times more sensitive to DN-IMI than to (−)-nicotine.With immuno-isolated α3 nicotinic AChRs, the tetrahydropyrimidine analogues of IMI with imine or nitromethylene substituents are 3–4 fold less active than (−)-nicotine. The structure-activity profile with α3 nicotinic AChRs from binding assays is faithfully reproduced in agonist potency as induction of 86rubidium ion efflux in intact cells.α7-Containing nicotinic AChRs of SH-SY5Y cells (immuno-isolated by mAb 306) and rat brain membranes show maximum sensitivity to the tetrahydropyrimidine analogue of IMI with the nitromethylene substituent.The purported α4β2 nicotinic AChRs [mouse (Chao & Casida, 1997) and rat brain] are similar in sensitivity to DN-IMI, the tetrahydropyrimidine nitromethylene and nicotine.The commercial insecticides (IMI, acetamiprid and nitenpyram) have low to moderate potency at the α3 and purported α4β2 nicotinic AChRs and are essentially inactive at α1 and α7 nicotinic AChRs.In conclusion, the toxicity of the analogues and metabolites of nicotinoid insecticides in mammals may involve action at multiple receptor subtypes with selectivity conferred by minor structural changes.
PMCID: PMC1566001  PMID: 10369463
Chloropyridinyl nicotinic ligands; human neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y cells; imidacloprid; nicotinic AChR subtypes; nicotinoid insecticides; 86Rb+ efflux
17.  Structure and transmembrane nature of the acetylcholine receptor in amphibian skeletal muscle as revealed by cross-reacting monoclonal antibodies 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1984;98(2):609-618.
A collection of 126 monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) made against acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) from the electric organs of Torpedo californica or Electrophorus electricus was tested for cross-reactivity with AChRs in cryostat sections of skeletal muscle from Rana pipiens and Xenopus laevis by indirect immunofluorescence. 49 mAbs (39%) cross- reacted with AChRs from Rana, and 25 mAbs (20%) cross-reacted with AChRs from Xenopus. mAbs specific for each of the four subunits of electric organ AChR (alpha, beta, gamma, delta) cross-reacted with AChRs from each amphibian species. mAbs cross-reacting with Xenopus AChRs were, with one exception, a subset of the mAbs cross-reacting with Rana AChRs. The major difference detected between the two species was in binding by mAbs specific for the main immunogenic region (MIR) of the alpha-subunit. Whereas 22 of 33 anti-MIR mAbs tested cross- reacted with Rana AChRs, only one of these mAbs cross-reacted with Xenopus AChRs. Some (32) of the cross-reacting mAbs were tested for binding to AChRs in intact muscle. 21 of these mAbs bound to AChRs only when membranes were made permeable with saponin. Electron microscopy using immunoperoxidase or colloidal gold techniques revealed that these mAbs recognize cytoplasmic determinants and that mAbs that do not require saponin in order to bind AChRs in intact muscle recognize extracellular determinants. These results suggest that AChRs in skeletal muscle of Rana and Xenopus are composed of subunits corresponding to the alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-subunits of AChRs from fish electric organs. The subunit specificity of mAbs whose binding was examined by electron microscopy suggests that parts of each subunit (alpha, beta, gamma, delta) are exposed on the cytoplasmic surface and that, as in AChRs from fish electric organs and mammalian muscle, the MIR on alpha-subunits of Rana AChRs is exposed on the extracellular surface.
PMCID: PMC2113085  PMID: 6363425
18.  Ric-3 chaperone-mediated stable cell-surface expression of the neuronal α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor in mammalian cells 
Acta Pharmacologica Sinica  2009;30(6):818-827.
Studies of the α7-type neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (AChR), one of the receptor forms involved in many physiologically relevant processes in the central nervous system, have been hampered by the inability of this homomeric protein to assemble in most heterologous expression systems. In a recent study, it was shown that the chaperone Ric-3 is necessary for the maturation and functional expression of α7-type AChRs1. The current work aims at obtaining and characterizing a cell line with high functional expression of the human α7 AChR.
Ric-3 cDNA was incorporated into SHE-P1-hα7 cells expressing the α7-type AChR. Functional studies were undertaken using single-channel patch-clamp recordings. Equilibrium and kinetic [125I]α-bungarotoxin binding assays, as well as fluorescence microscopy using fluorescent α-bungarotoxin, anti-α7 antibody, and GFP-α7 were performed on the new clone.
The human α7-type AChR was stably expressed in a new cell line, which we coined SHE-P1-hα7-Ric-3, by co-expression of the chaperone Ric-3. Cell-surface AChRs exhibited [125I]αBTX saturable binding with an apparent KD of about 55 nmol/L. Fluorescence microscopy revealed dispersed and micro-clustered AChR aggregates at the surface of SHE-P1-hα7-Ric-3 cells. Larger micron-sized clusters were observed in the absence of receptor-clustering proteins or upon aggregation with anti-α7 antibodies. In contrast, chaperone-less SHE-P1-hα7 cells expressed only intracellular α7 AChRs and failed to produce detectable single-channel currents.
The production of a stable and functional cell line of neuroepithelial lineage with robust cell-surface expression of neuronal α7-type AChR, as reported here, constitutes an important advance in the study of homomeric receptors in mammalian cells.
PMCID: PMC4002380  PMID: 19498422
neuronal receptor; cholinergic chaperone; membrane protein expression
19.  Temperature-sensitive expression of all-Torpedo and Torpedo-rat hybrid AChR in mammalian muscle cells 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1990;110(5):1705-1717.
When the four subunits of the Torpedo californica nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (AChR) are expressed in mammalian fibroblasts, they properly assembly into alpha 2 beta gamma delta pentamers only at temperatures lower than 37 degrees C (Claudio, T., W. N. Green, D. S. Hartman, D. Hayden, H. L. Paulson, F. J. Sigworth, S. M. Sine, and A. Swedlund. 1987. Science (Wash. DC). 238:1688-1694). Experiments here with rat L6 myoblast cell lines indicate that this temperature sensitivity is not specific to fibroblasts, but is intrinsic to Torpedo subunits. A clonal isolate of L6 cells cotransfected with the four Torpedo subunit cDNAs synthesizes the exogenous AChR subunits at 37 degrees and 26 degrees C, but expresses Torpedo AChR complexes only at the lower temperature. When Torpedo alpha alone is expressed in L6 myotubes, hybrid AChRs are formed, again only at temperatures below 37 degrees C. These hybrid AChRs can contain either two Torpedo alpha subunits or one each of rat and Torpedo alpha, proving that the two alpha subunits in an AChR pentamer need not derive from the same polysome. Further analysis of hybrid and all-Torpedo AChR established that there is no internally sequestered pool of AChR at the nonpermissive temperature, and that the AChR, once formed, is thermostable. Two lines of experimentation with alpha subunits expressed in fibroblasts indicate that alpha polypeptides exhibit different conformations at 26 degrees and 37 degrees C, favoring the hypothesis that the temperature-sensitive step occurs before assembly and reflects, at least in part, misfolding of subunits: at 37 degrees C, there is a reduction in the fraction of alpha subunits that (a) bind the AChR antagonist alpha-bungarotoxin with high affinity; and (b) bind a monoclonal antibody that recognizes correctly folded and/or assembled alpha subunit.
PMCID: PMC2200171  PMID: 2335568
20.  Three-dimensional structure of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor and location of the major associated 43-kD cytoskeletal protein, determined at 22 A by low dose electron microscopy and x-ray diffraction to 12.5 A [published erratum appears in J Cell Biol 1989 Oct;109(4 Pt 1):1185] 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1989;109(2):755-774.
The three-dimensional structure of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (AChR) from Torpedo californica, crystallized both before and after removal of associated proteins, most notably the main 43-kD cytoskeletal protein that interacts both with AChR and actin, is determined to a resolution of 22 A. This is the first structural analysis where the 43-kD protein has been removed from the sample before crystallization. Thus, it provides the most reliable assessment of what constitutes the structure of the minimal five subunit AChR complex, and, by comparison with the native membrane, of the location of the 43-kD cytoskeletal protein. Image reconstruction of two- dimensional crystals includes information from electron images of up to +/- 52 degrees tilted specimens of latticed AChR. Hybrid density maps that include x-ray diffraction perpendicular to the membrane to 12.5 A resolution were used and eliminate some of the distortions introduced in maps based only on electron microscopic analyses. Comparison of the difference Fourier density maps between AChR with its normal complement of associated proteins, and without them shows that the main density, assigned to the actin-binding 43-kD component is closely associated with the lipid bilayer as well as with the cytoplasmic domain of the AChR. It binds beside the AChR, not beneath it as suggested by others (C. Toyoshima and N. Unwin 1988. Nature [Lond.]. 336:237-240). There is good agreement between the volumes of density for structural components and expected volumes based on their molecular weight. Acetylcholine receptors aggregate in the absence of any cytoskeletal proteins, suggesting that the AChR alone is sufficient to encode and stabilize clustering, and perhaps to do so during synaptogenesis. The main 43-kD component may play a role in location and rate of association of AChR. We show that the disulfide bond that cross-links delta-delta chains of adjacent pentamers in about 80% of AChR, is not required to stabilize the lattice of AChR. Latticed tube structures are stable indefinitely. The lattices described here have 20% less volume of lipid than those originally obtained and characterized by J. Kistler and R. M. Stroud (1981. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 78:3678-3682), or those subsequently characterized by A. Brisson and P. N. T. Unwin (1984. J. Cell Biol. 99:1202-1211) and A. Brisson and P. N. T. Unwin (1985. Nature (Lond.). 315:474-477).
PMCID: PMC2115713  PMID: 2760111
21.  Improved resolution of single channel dwell times reveals mechanisms of binding, priming, and gating in muscle AChR 
Mukhtasimova et al. describe experimental modifications of the patch clamp technique that improve temporal resolution of currents through single acetylcholine receptor channels. The study not only distinguishes between the priming and gating steps, but it also reveals how rate and equilibrium constants change as a function of agonist occupancy.
The acetylcholine receptor (AChR) from vertebrate skeletal muscle initiates voluntary movement, and its kinetics of activation are crucial for maintaining the safety margin for neuromuscular transmission. Furthermore, the kinetic mechanism of the muscle AChR serves as an archetype for understanding activation mechanisms of related receptors from the Cys-loop superfamily. Here we record currents through single muscle AChR channels with improved temporal resolution approaching half an order of magnitude over our previous best. A range of concentrations of full and partial agonists are used to elicit currents from human wild-type and gain-of-function mutant AChRs. For each agonist–receptor combination, rate constants are estimated from maximum likelihood analysis using a kinetic scheme comprised of agonist binding, priming, and channel gating steps. The kinetic scheme and rate constants are tested by stochastic simulation, followed by incorporation of the experimental step response, sampling rate, background noise, and filter bandwidth. Analyses of the simulated data confirm all rate constants except those for channel gating, which are overestimated because of the established effect of noise on the briefest dwell times. Estimates of the gating rate constants were obtained through iterative simulation followed by kinetic fitting. The results reveal that the agonist association rate constants are independent of agonist occupancy but depend on receptor state, whereas those for agonist dissociation depend on occupancy but not on state. The priming rate and equilibrium constants increase with successive agonist occupancy, and for a full agonist, the forward rate constant increases more than the equilibrium constant; for a partial agonist, the forward rate and equilibrium constants increase equally. The gating rate and equilibrium constants also increase with successive agonist occupancy, but unlike priming, the equilibrium constants increase more than the forward rate constants. As observed for a full and a partial agonist, the gain-of-function mutation affects the relationship between rate and equilibrium constants for priming but not for channel gating. Thus, resolving brief single channel currents distinguishes priming from gating steps and reveals how the corresponding rate and equilibrium constants depend on agonist occupancy.
PMCID: PMC4924934  PMID: 27353445
22.  Acetylcholine receptors in the retinas of the α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor knockout mouse 
Molecular Vision  2014;20:1328-1356.
The α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) is widely expressed in the nervous system, including in the inner retinal neurons in all species studied to date. Although reductions in the expression of α7 nAChRs are thought to contribute to the memory and visual deficits reported in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and schizophrenia , the α7 nAChR knockout (KO) mouse is viable and has only slight visual dysfunction. The absence of a major phenotypic abnormality may be attributable to developmental mechanisms that serve to compensate for α7 nAChR loss. We hypothesized that the upregulation of genes encoding other nAChR subunits or muscarinic acetylcholine receptor (mAChR) subtypes during development partially accounts for the absence of major deficiencies in the α7 nAChR KO mouse. The purpose of this study was to determine whether the deletion of the α7 nAChR subunit in a mouse model resulted in changes in the regulation of other cholinergic receptors or other ion channels in an α7 nAChR KO mouse when compared to a wild-type (WT) mouse.
To examine gene expression changes, we employed a quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) using whole retina RNA extracts as well as RNA extracted from selected regions of the retina. These extracts were collected using laser capture microdissection (LCM). The presence of acetylcholine receptor (AChR) subunit and subtype proteins was determined via western blotting. To determine any differences in the number and distribution of choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) amacrine cells, we employed wholemount and vertical immunohistochemistry (IHC) and cell counting. Additionally, in both WT and α7 nAChR KO mouse retinas, the distribution of the nAChR subunit and mAChR subtype proteins were determined via IHC for those KO mice that experienced mRNA changes.
In the whole retina, there was a statistically significant upregulation of α2, α9, α10, β4, nAChR subunit, and m1 and m4 mAChR subtype transcripts in the α7 nAChR KO mice. However, the retinal layers showed complex patterns of transcript expression. In the ganglion cell layer (GCL), m2 and m4 mAChR subtype transcripts were significantly upregulated, while β3 and β4 nAChR subunit transcripts were significantly downregulated. In the inner portion of the inner nuclear layer (iINL), α2, α9, β4, nAChR subunit, and m3 and m4 mAChR subtype transcripts were significantly downregulated. In the outer portion of the inner nuclear layer (oINL), β2, β4, and m4 AChR subunit transcripts were significantly upregulated. Western blot experiments confirmed the protein expression of α3–α5 and α9-containing nAChR subunits and m1–m2 mAChR subtypes in mouse retinas. IHC results supported many of the mRNA changes observed. Finally, this is the first report of α9 and α10 nAChR subunit expressions in the retina of any species.
Rather than a simple upregulation of a single AChR subunit or subtype, the absence of the α7 nAChR in the KO mice was associated with complex layer-specific changes in the expression of AChR subunits and subtypes.
PMCID: PMC4169779  PMID: 25352741
23.  Naturally Occurring Mutations at the Acetylcholine Receptor Binding Site Independently Alter ACh Binding and Channel Gating 
The Journal of General Physiology  2002;120(4):483-496.
By defining functional defects in a congenital myasthenic syndrome (CMS), we show that two mutant residues, located in a binding site region of the acetylcholine receptor (AChR) epsilon subunit, exert opposite effects on ACh binding and suppress channel gating. Single channel kinetic analysis reveals that the first mutation, ɛN182Y, increases ACh affinity for receptors in the resting closed state, which promotes sequential occupancy of the binding sites and discloses rate constants for ACh occupancy of the nonmutant αδ site. Studies of the analogous mutation in the δ subunit, δN187Y, disclose rate constants for ACh occupancy of the nonmutant αɛ site. The second CMS mutation, ɛD175N, reduces ACh affinity for receptors in the resting closed state; occupancy of the mutant site still promotes gating because a large difference in affinity is maintained between closed and open states. ɛD175N impairs overall gating, however, through an effect independent of ACh occupancy. When mapped on a structural model of the AChR binding site, ɛN182Y localizes to the interface with the α subunit, and ɛD175 to the entrance of the ACh binding cavity. Both ɛN182Y and ɛD175 show state specificity in affecting closed relative to desensitized state affinities, suggesting that the protein chain harboring ɛN182 and ɛD175 rearranges in the course of receptor desensitization. The overall results show that key residues at the ACh binding site differentially stabilize the agonist bound to closed, open and desensitized states, and provide a set point for gating of the channel.
PMCID: PMC2229537  PMID: 12356851
congenital myasthenic syndrome; single channel kinetics; agonist binding; channel gating; mutation analysis
24.  Mutation causing severe myasthenia reveals functional asymmetry of AChR signature cystine loops in agonist binding and gating 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  2003;111(4):497-505.
We describe a highly disabling congenital myasthenic syndrome (CMS) associated with rapidly decaying, low-amplitude synaptic currents, and trace its cause to a valine to leucine mutation in the signature cystine loop (cys-loop) of the AChR α subunit. The recently solved crystal structure of an ACh-binding protein places the cys-loop at the junction between the extracellular ligand-binding and transmembrane domains where it may couple agonist binding to channel gating. We therefore analyzed the kinetics of ACh-induced single-channel currents to identify elementary steps in the receptor activation mechanism altered by the αV132L mutation. The analysis reveals that αV132L markedly impairs ACh binding to receptors in the resting closed state, decreasing binding affinity for the second binding step 30-fold, but attenuates gating efficiency only about twofold. By contrast, mutation of the equivalent valine residue in the δ subunit impairs channel gating approximately fourfold with little effect on ACh binding, while corresponding mutations in the β and ε subunits are without effect. The unique functional contribution of the α subunit cys-loop likely owes to its direct connection via a β strand to αW149 at the center of the ligand-binding domain. The overall findings reveal functional asymmetry between cys-loops of the different AChR subunits in contributing to ACh binding and channel gating.
PMCID: PMC151927  PMID: 12588888
25.  A Structural and Mutagenic Blueprint for Molecular Recognition of Strychnine and d-Tubocurarine by Different Cys-Loop Receptors 
PLoS Biology  2011;9(3):e1001034.
Cys-loop receptors (CLR) are pentameric ligand-gated ion channels that mediate fast excitatory or inhibitory transmission in the nervous system. Strychnine and d-tubocurarine (d-TC) are neurotoxins that have been highly instrumental in decades of research on glycine receptors (GlyR) and nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR), respectively. In this study we addressed the question how the molecular recognition of strychnine and d-TC occurs with high affinity and yet low specificity towards diverse CLR family members. X-ray crystal structures of the complexes with AChBP, a well-described structural homolog of the extracellular domain of the nAChRs, revealed that strychnine and d-TC adopt multiple occupancies and different ligand orientations, stabilizing the homopentameric protein in an asymmetric state. This introduces a new level of structural diversity in CLRs. Unlike protein and peptide neurotoxins, strychnine and d-TC form a limited number of contacts in the binding pocket of AChBP, offering an explanation for their low selectivity. Based on the ligand interactions observed in strychnine- and d-TC-AChBP complexes we performed alanine-scanning mutagenesis in the binding pocket of the human α1 GlyR and α7 nAChR and showed the functional relevance of these residues in conferring high potency of strychnine and d-TC, respectively. Our results demonstrate that a limited number of ligand interactions in the binding pocket together with an energetic stabilization of the extracellular domain are key to the poor selective recognition of strychnine and d-TC by CLRs as diverse as the GlyR, nAChR, and 5-HT3R.
Author Summary
Ligand-gated ion channels play an important role in fast electrochemical signaling in the brain. Cys-loop receptors are a class of pentameric ligand-gated ion channels that are activated by specific neurotransmitters, including acetylcholine (ACh), serotonin (5-HT), glycine (Gly), and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Each type of cys-loop receptor contains an extracellular domain that specifically recognizes only one of these four neurotransmitters and opens an ion-conducting channel pore upon ligand binding. In this study, we investigated the poor specificity with which two potent neurotoxic inhibitors, namely strychnine and d-tubocurarine, are recognized by different cys-loop receptors. Using X-ray crystallography we solved 3-dimensional structures of strychnine or d-tubocurarine in complex with ACh binding protein (AChBP), a well-recognized structural homolog of the nicotinic ACh receptor. Based on ligand-receptor interactions observed in AChBP structures we designed mutant GlyR and α7 nAChR to identify hot spots in the binding pocket of these receptors that define potent inhibition by strychnine and d-tubocurarine, respectively. Combined, our results offer detailed understanding of the molecular recognition of antagonists that have high affinity but poor specificity for different cys-loop receptors.
PMCID: PMC3066128  PMID: 21468359

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