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1.  Current Status of the Congenital Myasthenic Syndromes 
Neuromuscular Disorders  2011;22(2):99-111.
Congenital myasthenic syndromes (CMS) are heterogeneous disorders in which the safety margin of neuromuscular transmission is compromised by one or more specific mechanisms. Clinical, electrophysiologic, and morphologic studies have paved the way for detecting CMS-related mutations in proteins residing in the nerve terminal, the synaptic basal lamina, and in the postsynaptic region of the motor endplate. The disease proteins identified to date include choline acetyltransferase (ChAT), the endplate species of acetylcholinesterase (AChE), β2-laminin, the acetylcholine receptor (AChR), rapsyn, plectin, Nav1.4, the muscle specific protein kinase (MuSK), agrin, downstream of tyrosine kinase 7 (Dok-7), and glutamine-fructose-6-phosphate transaminase 1 (GFPT1). Myasthenic syndromes associated with centronuclear myopathies were recently recognized. Analysis of properties of expressed mutant proteins contributed to finding improved therapy for most CMS. Despite these advances, the molecular basis of some phenotypically characterized CMS remains elusive. Moreover, other types of CMS and disease genes likely exist and await discovery.
doi:10.1016/j.nmd.2011.10.009
PMCID: PMC3269564  PMID: 22104196
Congenital myasthenic syndrome; neuromuscular junction; EMG; choline acetyltransferase; ColQ; β2-laminin; acetylcholine receptor; rapsyn; agrin; MuSK; Dok-7; GFPT1; plectin; fetal akinesia syndrome
2.  What Have We Learned from the Congenital Myasthenic Syndromes 
The congenital myasthenic syndromes have now been traced to an array of molecular targets at the neuromuscular junction encoded by no fewer than 11 disease genes. The disease genes were identified by the candidate gene approach, using clues derived from clinical, electrophysiological, cytochemical, and ultrastructural features. For example, electrophysiologic studies in patients suffering from sudden episodes of apnea pointed to a defect in acetylcholine resynthesis and CHAT as the candidate gene (Ohno et al., Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 98:2017–2022–2001); refractoriness to anticholinesterase medications and partial or complete absence of acetylcholinesterase (AChE) from the endplates (EPs) has pointed to one of the two genes (COLQ and ACHET) encoding AChE, though mutations were observed only in COLQ. After a series of patients carrying mutations in a disease gene have been identified, the emerging genotype–phenotype correlations provided clues for targeted mutation analysis in other patients. Mutations in EP-specific proteins also prompted expression studies that proved pathogenicity, highlighted important functional domains of the abnormal proteins, and pointed to rational therapy.
doi:10.1007/s12031-009-9229-0
PMCID: PMC3050586  PMID: 19688192
Congenital myasthenic syndromes; Acetylcholine esterase; Choline acetyltransferase; Acetylcholine receptor; Dok-7
3.  Anti-MuSK autoantibodies block binding of collagen Q to MuSK 
Neurology  2011;77(20):1819-1826.
Objective:
Muscle-specific receptor tyrosine kinase (MuSK) antibody-positive myasthenia gravis (MG) accounts for 5%–15% of autoimmune MG. MuSK mediates the agrin-signaling pathway and also anchors the collagenic tail subunit (ColQ) of acetylcholinesterase (AChE). The exact molecular target of MuSK–immunoglobulin G (IgG), however, remains elusive. As acetylcholine receptor (AChR) deficiency is typically mild and as cholinesterase inhibitors are generally ineffective, we asked if MuSK-IgG interferes with binding of ColQ to MuSK.
Methods:
We used 3 assays: in vitro overlay of the human ColQ-tailed AChE to muscle sections of Colq−/− mice; in vitro plate-binding assay to quantitate binding of MuSK to ColQ and to LRP4; and passive transfer of MuSK-IgG to mice.
Results:
The in vitro overlay assay revealed that MuSK-IgG blocks binding of ColQ to the neuromuscular junction. The in vitro plate-binding assay showed that MuSK-IgG exerts a dose-dependent block of MuSK binding to ColQ by but not to LRP4. Passive transfer of MuSK-IgG to mice reduced the size and density of ColQ to ∼10% of controls and had a lesser effect on the size and density of AChR and MuSK.
Conclusions:
As lack of ColQ compromises agrin-mediated AChR clustering in Colq−/− mice, a similar mechanism may lead to AChR deficiency in MuSK-MG patients. Our experiments also predict partial AChE deficiency in MuSK-MG patients, but AChE is not reduced in biopsied NMJs. In humans, binding of ColQ to MuSK may be dispensable for clustering ColQ, but is required for facilitating AChR clustering. Further studies will be required to elucidate the basis of this paradox.
doi:10.1212/WNL.0b013e318237f660
PMCID: PMC3233209  PMID: 22013178
4.  Genetic Analysis of Collagen Q: Roles in Acetylcholinesterase and Butyrylcholinesterase Assembly and in Synaptic Structure and Function  
The Journal of Cell Biology  1999;144(6):1349-1360.
Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) occurs in both asymmetric forms, covalently associated with a collagenous subunit called Q (ColQ), and globular forms that may be either soluble or membrane associated. At the skeletal neuromuscular junction, asymmetric AChE is anchored to the basal lamina of the synaptic cleft, where it hydrolyzes acetylcholine to terminate synaptic transmission. AChE has also been hypothesized to play developmental roles in the nervous system, and ColQ is also expressed in some AChE-poor tissues. To seek roles of ColQ and AChE at synapses and elsewhere, we generated ColQ-deficient mutant mice. ColQ−/− mice completely lacked asymmetric AChE in skeletal and cardiac muscles and brain; they also lacked asymmetric forms of the AChE homologue, butyrylcholinesterase. Thus, products of the ColQ gene are required for assembly of all detectable asymmetric AChE and butyrylcholinesterase. Surprisingly, globular AChE tetramers were also absent from neonatal ColQ−/− muscles, suggesting a role for the ColQ gene in assembly or stabilization of AChE forms that do not themselves contain a collagenous subunit. Histochemical, immunohistochemical, toxicological, and electrophysiological assays all indicated absence of AChE at ColQ−/− neuromuscular junctions. Nonetheless, neuromuscular function was initially robust, demonstrating that AChE and ColQ do not play obligatory roles in early phases of synaptogenesis. Moreover, because acute inhibition of synaptic AChE is fatal to normal animals, there must be compensatory mechanisms in the mutant that allow the synapse to function in the chronic absence of AChE. One structural mechanism appears to be a partial ensheathment of nerve terminals by Schwann cells. Compensation was incomplete, however, as animals lacking ColQ and synaptic AChE failed to thrive and most died before they reached maturity.
PMCID: PMC2150590  PMID: 10087275
acetylcholine; acetylcholinesterase; butyrylcholinesterase; collagen; neuromuscular junction
5.  Highly fatal fast-channel syndrome caused by AChR ɛ subunit mutation at the agonist binding site 
Neurology  2012;79(5):449-454.
Objective:
To characterize the molecular basis of a novel fast-channel congenital myasthenic syndrome.
Methods:
We used the candidate gene approach to identify the pathogenic mutation in the acetylcholine receptor (AChR) ɛ subunit, genetically engineered the mutant AChR into HEK cells, and evaluated the level of expression and kinetic properties of the mutant receptor.
Results:
An 8-year-old boy born to consanguineous parents had severe myasthenic symptoms since birth. He is wheelchair bound and pyridostigmine therapy enables him to take only a few steps. Three similarly affected siblings died in infancy. He carries a homozygous p.W55R mutation at the α/ɛ subunit interface of the AChR agonist binding site. The mutant protein expresses well in HEK cells. Patch-clamp analysis of the mutant receptor expressed in HEK cells reveals 30-fold reduced apparent agonist affinity, 75-fold reduced apparent gating efficiency, and strikingly attenuated channel opening probability (Popen) over a range agonist concentrations.
Conclusion:
Introduction of a cationic Arg into the anionic environment of α/ɛ AChR binding site hinders stabilization of cationic ACh by aromatic residues and accounts for the markedly perturbed kinetic properties of the receptor. The very low Popen explains the poor response to pyridostigmine and the high fatality of the disease.
doi:10.1212/WNL.0b013e31825b5bda
PMCID: PMC3405251  PMID: 22592360
6.  BENEFICIAL EFFECTS OF ALBUTEROL IN CONGENITAL ENDPLATE ACETYLCHOLINESTERASE DEFICIENCY AND DOK-7 MYASTHENIA 
Muscle & nerve  2011;44(5):789-794.
Background
Congenital myasthenic syndromes (CMS) are disabling but treatable disorders. Anticholinesterase therapy is effective in most, but is contraindicated in endplate (EP) acetylcholinesterase (AChE) deficiency, the slow-channel syndrome, Dok-7 myasthenia, β2-laminin deficiency, and is not useful in CMS due to defects in MuSK, agrin, and plectin. EP AChE, Dok-7 and β2-laminin deficiencies respond favorably to ephedrine but ephedrine can no longer be prescribed in the US.
Methods
We used albuterol, another sympathomimetic agent, to treat three patients with EP AChE deficiency and 15 with Dok-7 myasthenia. Response to therapy was evaluated by a 9-point questionnaire pertaining to activities of daily life.
Results
Comparison of the pre- and post-treatment responses indicated a beneficial response to albuterol (p values <0.001) in both patient groups. The adverse effects of therapy were like those of ephedrine.
Discussion
Our observations should spur controlled prospective clinical trials of albuterol in these as well as other CMS.
doi:10.1002/mus.22176
PMCID: PMC3196786  PMID: 21952943
Congenital myasthenic syndrome; Dok-7 myasthenia; Endplate AChE deficiency; Albuterol
7.  Myasthenic syndrome AChRα C-loop mutant disrupts initiation of channel gating 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2012;122(7):2613-2621.
Congenital myasthenic syndromes (CMSs) are neuromuscular disorders that can be caused by defects in ace­tylcholine receptor (AChR) function. Disease-associated point mutants can reveal the unsuspected functional significance of mutated residues. We identified two pathogenic mutations in the extracellular domain of the AChR α subunit (AChRα) in a patient with myasthenic symptoms since birth: a V188M mutation in the C-loop and a heteroallelic G74C mutation in the main immunogenic region. The G74C mutation markedly reduced surface AChR expression in cultured cells, whereas the V188M mutant was expressed robustly but had severely impaired kinetics. Single-channel patch-clamp analysis indicated that V188M markedly decreased the apparent AChR channel opening rate and gating efficiency. Mutant cycle analysis of energetic coupling among conserved residues within or dispersed around the AChRα C-loop revealed that V188 is functionally linked to Y190 in the C-loop and to D200 in β-strand 10, which connects to the M1 transmembrane domain. Furthermore, V188M weakens inter-residue coupling of K145 in β-strand 7 with Y190 and with D200. Cumulatively, these results indicate that V188 of AChRα is part of an interdependent tetrad that contributes to rearrangement of the C-loop during the initial coupling of agonist binding to channel gating.
doi:10.1172/JCI63415
PMCID: PMC3386830  PMID: 22728938
8.  The emerging diversity of neuromuscular junction disorders 
Acta Myologica  2007;26(1):5-10.
Summary
Research advances over the last 30 years have shown that key transmembrane proteins at the neuromuscular junction are vulnerable to antibody-mediated autoimmune attack These targets are acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) and muscle specific kinase (MuSK) in myasthenia gravis, voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) in the Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome (LEMS), and voltage-gated potassium channels (VGKCs) in neuromyotonia. In parallel with these immunological advances, mutations identified in genes encoding pre-synaptic, synaptic and post-synaptic proteins that are crucial to neuromuscular transmission have revealed a similar diversity of congenital myasthenic syndromes (CMS). These discoveries have had a major impact on diagnosis and management.
PMCID: PMC2949330  PMID: 17915563
Myasthenia gravis; myasthenic syndromes; congenital myasthenia
9.  Intrafamily phenotypic heterogeneity in a large Thai slow-channel-syndrome kinship 
Neuromuscular disorders : NMD  2011;21(3):214-218.
The slow-channel congenital myasthenic syndrome (SCCMS) is an autosomal dominant neuromuscular disorder caused by mutations in different subunits of the acetylcholine receptor (AChR). We here report our clinical findings in three generation of a large Thai kinship suffering from a SCCMS and trace the disease to the p. Gly153Ser mutation in the AChR α subunit. The same mutation had previously been reported only in Caucasian families but not in Asian patients. The clinical features include ptosis, ophthalmoparesis, and weakness of the cervical and finger extensor muscles as well as marked intrafamily phenotypic heterogeneity.
doi:10.1016/j.nmd.2010.12.006
PMCID: PMC3327811  PMID: 21316238
congenital myasthenic syndrome; slow channel syndrome; alpha subunit; acetylcholine receptor; mutation
10.  Mutation causing congenital myasthenia reveals acetylcholine receptor β/δ subunit interaction essential for assembly 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  1999;104(10):1403-1410.
We describe a severe postsynaptic congenital myasthenic syndrome with marked endplate acetylcholine receptor (AChR) deficiency caused by 2 heteroallelic mutations in the β subunit gene. One mutation causes skipping of exon 8, truncating the β subunit before its M1 transmembrane domain, and abolishing surface expression of pentameric AChR. The other mutation, a 3-codon deletion (β426delEQE) in the long cytoplasmic loop between the M3 and M4 domains, curtails but does not abolish expression. By coexpressing β426delEQE with combinations of wild-type subunits in 293 HEK cells, we demonstrate that β426delEQE impairs AChR assembly by disrupting a specific interaction between β and δ subunits. Studies with related deletion and missense mutants indicate that secondary structure in this region of the β subunit is crucial for interaction with the δ subunit. The findings imply that the mutated residues are positioned at the interface between β and δ subunits and demonstrate contribution of this local region of the long cytoplasmic loop to AChR assembly.
J. Clin. Invest. 104:1403–1410 (1999).
PMCID: PMC409847  PMID: 10562302
11.  Acetylcholine receptor δ subunit mutations underlie a fast-channel myasthenic syndrome and arthrogryposis multiplex congenita 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  2001;108(1):125-130.
Limitation of movement during fetal development may lead to multiple joint contractures in the neonate, termed arthrogryposis multiplex congenita. Neuromuscular disorders are among the many different causes of reduced fetal movement. Many congenital myasthenic syndromes (CMSs) are due to mutations of the adult-specific ε subunit of the acetylcholine receptor (AChR), and, thus, functional deficits do not arise until late in gestation. However, an earlier effect on the fetus might be predicted with some defects of other AChR subunits. We studied a child who presented at birth with joint contractures and was subsequently found to have a CMS. Mutational screening revealed heteroallelic mutation within the AChR δ subunit gene, δ756ins2 and δE59K. Expression studies demonstrate that δ756ins2 is a null mutation. By contrast, both fetal and adult AChR containing δE59K have shorter than normal channel activations that predict fast decay of endplate currents. Thus, δE59K causes dysfunction of fetal as well as the adult AChR and would explain the presence of joint contractures on the basis of reduced fetal movement. This is the first report of the association of AChR gene mutations with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita. It is probable that mutations that severely disrupt function of fetal AChR will underlie additional cases.
PMCID: PMC209343  PMID: 11435464
12.  AChR deficiency due to ε-subunit mutations: two common mutations in the Netherlands 
Journal of Neurology  2009;256(10):1719-1723.
Congenital myasthenic syndromes are a clinically and genetically heterogeneous group of hereditary disorders affecting neuromuscular transmission. We have identified mutations within the acetylcholine receptor (AChR) ε-subunit gene underlying congenital myasthenic syndromes in nine patients (seven kinships) of Dutch origin. Previously reported mutations ε1369delG and εR311Q were found to be common; ε1369delG was present on at least one allele in seven of the nine patients, and εR311Q in six. Phenotypes ranged from relatively mild ptosis and external ophthalmoplegia to generalized myasthenia. The common occurrence of εR311Q and ε1369delG suggests a possible founder for each of these mutations originating in North Western Europe, possibly in Holland. Knowledge of the ethnic or geographic origin within Europe of AChR deficiency patients can help in targeting genetic screening and it may be possible to provide a rapid genetic diagnosis for patients of Dutch origin by screening first for εR311Q and ε1369delG.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00415-009-5190-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1007/s00415-009-5190-7
PMCID: PMC2758211  PMID: 19544078
Congenital myasthenic syndrome; AChR ε-subunit gene; AChR mutations
13.  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.
doi:10.1085/jgp.20028568
PMCID: PMC2229537  PMID: 12356851
congenital myasthenic syndrome; single channel kinetics; agonist binding; channel gating; mutation analysis
14.  BENEFICIAL EFFECT OF ALBUTEROL IN CONGENTIAL MYASTHENIC SYNDROME WITH EPSILON SUBUINT MUTATIONS 
Muscle & nerve  2011;44(2):289-291.
Mutations in the epsilon subunit of the acetylcholine receptor (AChR) are a common cause for congenital myasthenic syndrome (CMS). Patients are usually treated with acetylcholine esterase inhibitors and 3,4-diaminopyridine with modest clinical benefit. We report two patients with CMS due to mutations in the AChR epsilon subunit. The first patient carries two heterozygous frameshift mutations, ε127ins5 and ε1293insG. The second patient is homozygous for εC142Y mutation that curtails AChR expression to 22% of wild type in HEK cells. Treatment with pyridostigmine and 3,4 diaminopyridine had a limited beneficial effect in the first patient, and the second patient became wheelchair bound during therapy. The additional use of albuterol produced dramatic improvement in strength and in activities of daily living in both patients. The efficacy and safety of albuterol in patients who harbor identified low-expressor or null mutations in the epsilon or other subunits of AChR merits a well designed clinical trial.
doi:10.1002/mus.22153
PMCID: PMC3136566  PMID: 21721016
15.  Fundamental Gating Mechanism of Nicotinic Receptor Channel Revealed by Mutation Causing a Congenital Myasthenic Syndrome 
The Journal of General Physiology  2000;116(3):449-462.
We describe the genetic and kinetic defects in a congenital myasthenic syndrome due to the mutation εA411P in the amphipathic helix of the acetylcholine receptor (AChR) ε subunit. Myasthenic patients from three unrelated families are either homozygous for εA411P or are heterozygous and harbor a null mutation in the second ε allele, indicating that εA411P is recessive. We expressed human AChRs containing wild-type or A411P ε subunits in 293HEK cells, recorded single channel currents at high bandwidth, and determined microscopic rate constants for individual channels using hidden Markov modeling. For individual wild-type and mutant channels, each rate constant distributes as a Gaussian function, but the spread in the distributions for channel opening and closing rate constants is greatly expanded by εA411P. Prolines engineered into positions flanking residue 411 of the ε subunit greatly increase the range of activation kinetics similar to εA411P, whereas prolines engineered into positions equivalent to εA411 in β and δ subunits are without effect. Thus, the amphipathic helix of the ε subunit stabilizes the channel, minimizing the number and range of kinetic modes accessible to individual AChRs. The findings suggest that analogous stabilizing structures are present in other ion channels, and possibly allosteric proteins in general, and that they evolved to maintain uniformity of activation episodes. The findings further suggest that the fundamental gating mechanism of the AChR channel can be explained by a corrugated energy landscape superimposed on a steeply sloped energy well.
PMCID: PMC2233692  PMID: 10962020
congenital myasthenic syndrome; single channel kinetics; hidden Markov modeling; channel gating; energy landscape
16.  The Association of Tetrameric Acetylcholinesterase with ColQ Tail: A Block Normal Mode Analysis 
PLoS Computational Biology  2005;1(6):e62.
Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) rapidly hydrolyzes acetylcholine in the neuromuscular junctions and other cholinergic synapses to terminate the neuronal signal. In physiological conditions, AChE exists as tetramers associated with the proline-rich attachment domain (PRAD) of either collagen-like Q subunit (ColQ) or proline-rich membrane-anchoring protein. Crystallographic studies have revealed that different tetramer forms may be present, and it is not clear whether one or both are relevant under physiological conditions. Recently, the crystal structure of the tryptophan amphiphilic tetramerization (WAT) domain of AChE associated with PRAD ([WAT]4PRAD), which mimics the interface between ColQ and AChE tetramer, became available. In this study we built a complete tetrameric mouse [AChET]4–ColQ atomic structure model, based on the crystal structure of the [WAT]4PRAD complex. The structure was optimized using energy minimization. Block normal mode analysis was done to investigate the low-frequency motions of the complex and to correlate the structure model with the two known crystal structures of AChE tetramer. Significant low-frequency motions among the catalytic domains of the four AChE subunits were observed, while the [WAT]4PRAD part held the complex together. Normal mode involvement analysis revealed that the two lowest frequency modes were primarily involved in the conformational changes leading to the two crystal structures. The first 30 normal modes can account for more than 75% of the conformational changes in both cases. The evidence further supports the idea of a flexible tetramer model for AChE. This model can be used to study the implications of the association of AChE with ColQ.
Synopsis
Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) breaks down acetylcholine in the neuromuscular junction and other cholinergic synapses to terminate neuronal signals. AChE exists as tetramers anchored by structural subunits to the cell membranes in the brain or the basal lamina in the neuromuscular junction. Based on a crystal structure of the tetramerization domain of AChE with a proline-rich attachment domain of the anchoring proteins, a symmetric model of the complex of AChE tetramer with the anchoring protein tail was constructed. Block normal mode analysis revealed the presence of several low-frequency, low-barrier normal modes corresponding to inter-subunit motions. Previous crystal structures of AChE tetramer could be rationalized using these normal modes. These low-frequency modes are due to the presence of a flexible hinge in the structure of AChE. This study paints a picture of a flexible AChE tetramer with different conformational states interconverting easily under physiological conditions, which has important implications on the function of AChE. In particular, AChE is not trapped in the compact tetramer structure, for which access of substrate to two of the active sites is somewhat limited. Rather, the tetramer fluctuates to expose all four of its active sites to ensure rapid removal of acetylcholine.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0010062
PMCID: PMC1285061  PMID: 16299589
17.  The Association of Tetrameric Acetylcholinesterase with ColQ Tail: A Block Normal Mode Analysis 
PLoS Computational Biology  2005;1(6):e62.
Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) rapidly hydrolyzes acetylcholine in the neuromuscular junctions and other cholinergic synapses to terminate the neuronal signal. In physiological conditions, AChE exists as tetramers associated with the proline-rich attachment domain (PRAD) of either collagen-like Q subunit (ColQ) or proline-rich membrane-anchoring protein. Crystallographic studies have revealed that different tetramer forms may be present, and it is not clear whether one or both are relevant under physiological conditions. Recently, the crystal structure of the tryptophan amphiphilic tetramerization (WAT) domain of AChE associated with PRAD ([WAT]4PRAD), which mimics the interface between ColQ and AChE tetramer, became available. In this study we built a complete tetrameric mouse [AChET]4–ColQ atomic structure model, based on the crystal structure of the [WAT]4PRAD complex. The structure was optimized using energy minimization. Block normal mode analysis was done to investigate the low-frequency motions of the complex and to correlate the structure model with the two known crystal structures of AChE tetramer. Significant low-frequency motions among the catalytic domains of the four AChE subunits were observed, while the [WAT]4PRAD part held the complex together. Normal mode involvement analysis revealed that the two lowest frequency modes were primarily involved in the conformational changes leading to the two crystal structures. The first 30 normal modes can account for more than 75% of the conformational changes in both cases. The evidence further supports the idea of a flexible tetramer model for AChE. This model can be used to study the implications of the association of AChE with ColQ.
Synopsis
Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) breaks down acetylcholine in the neuromuscular junction and other cholinergic synapses to terminate neuronal signals. AChE exists as tetramers anchored by structural subunits to the cell membranes in the brain or the basal lamina in the neuromuscular junction. Based on a crystal structure of the tetramerization domain of AChE with a proline-rich attachment domain of the anchoring proteins, a symmetric model of the complex of AChE tetramer with the anchoring protein tail was constructed. Block normal mode analysis revealed the presence of several low-frequency, low-barrier normal modes corresponding to inter-subunit motions. Previous crystal structures of AChE tetramer could be rationalized using these normal modes. These low-frequency modes are due to the presence of a flexible hinge in the structure of AChE. This study paints a picture of a flexible AChE tetramer with different conformational states interconverting easily under physiological conditions, which has important implications on the function of AChE. In particular, AChE is not trapped in the compact tetramer structure, for which access of substrate to two of the active sites is somewhat limited. Rather, the tetramer fluctuates to expose all four of its active sites to ensure rapid removal of acetylcholine.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0010062
PMCID: PMC1285061  PMID: 16299589
18.  Mutation in the M1 Domain of the Acetylcholine Receptor α Subunit Decreases the Rate of Agonist Dissociation  
The Journal of General Physiology  1997;109(6):757-766.
We describe the kinetic consequences of the mutation N217K in the M1 domain of the acetylcholine receptor (AChR) α subunit that causes a slow channel congenital myasthenic syndrome (SCCMS). We previously showed that receptors containing αN217K expressed in 293 HEK cells open in prolonged activation episodes strikingly similar to those observed at the SCCMS end plates. Here we use single channel kinetic analysis to show that the prolonged activation episodes result primarily from slowing of the rate of acetylcholine (ACh) dissociation from the binding site. Rate constants for channel opening and closing are also slowed but to much smaller extents. The rate constants derived from kinetic analysis also describe the concentration dependence of receptor activation, revealing a 20-fold shift in the EC50 to lower agonist concentrations for αN217K. The apparent affinity of ACh binding, measured by competition against the rate of 125I-α-bungarotoxin binding, is also enhanced 20-fold by αN217K. Both the slowing of ACh dissociation and enhanced apparent affinity are specific to the lysine substitution, as the glutamine and glutamate substitutions have no effect. Substituting lysine for the equivalent asparagine in the β, ε, or δ subunits does not affect the kinetics of receptor activation or apparent agonist affinity. The results show that a mutation in the amino-terminal portion of the M1 domain produces a localized perturbation that stabilizes agonist bound to the resting state of the AChR.
PMCID: PMC2217038  PMID: 9222901
single channel kinetics; acetylcholine binding site
19.  MuSK is required for anchoring acetylcholinesterase at the neuromuscular junction 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2004;165(4):505-515.
At the neuromuscular junction, acetylcholinesterase (AChE) is mainly present as asymmetric forms in which tetramers of catalytic subunits are associated to a specific collagen, collagen Q (ColQ). The accumulation of the enzyme in the synaptic basal lamina strictly relies on ColQ. This has been shown to be mediated by interaction between ColQ and perlecan, which itself binds dystroglycan. Here, using transfected mutants of ColQ in a ColQ-deficient muscle cell line or COS-7 cells, we report that ColQ clusterizes through a more complex mechanism. This process requires two heparin-binding sites contained in the collagen domain as well as the COOH terminus of ColQ. Cross-linking and immunoprecipitation experiments in Torpedo postsynaptic membranes together with transfection experiments with muscle-specific kinase (MuSK) constructs in MuSK-deficient myotubes or COS-7 cells provide the first evidence that ColQ binds MuSK. Together, our data suggest that a ternary complex containing ColQ, perlecan, and MuSK is required for AChE clustering and support the notion that MuSK dictates AChE synaptic localization at the neuromuscular junction.
doi:10.1083/jcb.200307164
PMCID: PMC2172359  PMID: 15159418
synapse; cholinergic transmission; perlecan; ColQ; heparin-binding sites
20.  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%.
doi:10.1085/jgp.200810089
PMCID: PMC2638206  PMID: 19171769
21.  THE THERAPY OF CONGENITAL MYASTHENIC SYNDROMES 
Summary
Congenital myasthenic syndromes (CMSs) are heterogeneous disorders in which the safety margin of neuromuscular transmission is compromised by one or more mechanisms. Specific diagnosis of a CMS is important as some medications that benefit one type of CMS can be detrimental in another type. In some CMSs, strong clinical clues point to a specific diagnosis. In other CMSs, morphologic and in vitro electrophysiologic studies of the neuromuscular junction, determination of the number of acetylcholine receptors (AchRs) per junction, and molecular genetic studies may be required for a specific diagnosis. Strategies for therapy are based on whether a given CMS decreases or increases the synaptic response to acetylcholine (ACh). Cholinesterase inhibitors that increase the synaptic response to ACh and 3,4-diaminopyridine, which increases ACh release, are useful when the synaptic response to ACh is attenuated. Long-lived open-channel blockers of the AChR, quinidine and fluoxetine, are useful when the synaptic response is increased by abnormally prolonged opening episodes of the AChR channel. Ephedrine has beneficial effects in some CMSs but its mechanism of action is not understood.
doi:10.1016/j.nurt.2007.01.001
PMCID: PMC1978489  PMID: 17395135
Congenital myasthenic syndromes; acetylcholine receptor; acetylcholinesterase; choline acetyltransferase; rapsyn; Dok-7; MuSK; cholinesterase inhibitors; 3,4-diaminopyridine; quinidine; fluoxetine
22.  The Extracellular Linker of Muscle Acetylcholine Receptor Channels Is a Gating Control Element 
The Journal of General Physiology  2000;116(3):327-340.
We describe the functional consequences of mutations in the linker between the second and third transmembrane segments (M2–M3L) of muscle acetylcholine receptors at the single-channel level. Hydrophobic mutations (Ile, Cys, and Phe) placed near the middle of the linker of the α subunit (αS269) prolong apparent openings elicited by low concentrations of acetylcholine (ACh), whereas hydrophilic mutations (Asp, Lys, and Gln) are without effect. Because the gating kinetics of the αS269I receptor (a congenital myasthenic syndrome mutant) in the presence of ACh are too fast, choline was used as the agonist. This revealed an ∼92-fold increased gating equilibrium constant, which is consistent with an ∼10-fold decreased EC50 in the presence of ACh. With choline, this mutation accelerates channel opening ∼28-fold, slows channel closing ∼3-fold, but does not affect agonist binding to the closed state. These ratios suggest that, with ACh, αS269I acetylcholine receptors open at a rate of ∼1.4 × 106 s−1 and close at a rate of ∼760 s−1. These gating rate constants, together with the measured duration of apparent openings at low ACh concentrations, further suggest that ACh dissociates from the diliganded open receptor at a rate of ∼140 s−1. Ile mutations at positions flanking αS269 impair, rather than enhance, channel gating. Inserting or deleting one residue from this linker in the α subunit increased and decreased, respectively, the apparent open time approximately twofold. Contrary to the αS269I mutation, Ile mutations at equivalent positions of the β, ε, and δ subunits do not affect apparent open-channel lifetimes. However, in β and ε, shifting the mutation one residue to the NH2-terminal end enhances channel gating. The overall results indicate that this linker is a control element whose hydrophobicity determines channel gating in a position- and subunit-dependent manner. Characterization of the transition state of the gating reaction suggests that during channel opening the M2–M3L of the α subunit moves before the corresponding linkers of the β and ε subunits.
PMCID: PMC2233691  PMID: 10962011
nicotinic receptors; allosteric proteins; single-channel kinetics; transition state
23.  MuSK induces in vivo acetylcholine receptor clusters in a ligand-independent manner 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2001;155(7):1287-1296.
Muscle-specific receptor tyrosine kinase (MuSK) is required for the formation of the neuromuscular junction. Using direct gene transfer into single fibers, MuSK was expressed extrasynaptically in innervated rat muscle in vivo to identify its contribution to synapse formation. Spontaneous MuSK kinase activity leads, in the absence of its putative ligand neural agrin, to the appearance of ε-subunit–specific transcripts, the formation of acetylcholine receptor clusters, and acetylcholinesterase aggregates. Expression of kinase-inactive MuSK did not result in the formation of acetylcholine receptor (AChR) clusters, whereas a mutant MuSK lacking the ectodomain did induce AChR clusters. The contribution of endogenous MuSK was excluded by using genetically altered mice, where the kinase domain of the MuSK gene was flanked by loxP sequences and could be deleted upon expression of Cre recombinase. This allowed the conditional inactivation of endogenous MuSK in single muscle fibers and prevented the induction of ectopic AChR clusters. Thus, the kinase activity of MuSK initiates signals that are sufficient to induce the formation of AChR clusters. This process does not require additional determinants located in the ectodomain.
doi:10.1083/jcb.200105034
PMCID: PMC2199313  PMID: 11748247
gene transfer; muscle; rat; neuromuscular junction; MuSK
24.  Myasthenic syndrome due to defects in rapsyn 
Neurology  2009;73(3):228-235.
Background:
Pathogenic mutations in rapsyn result in endplate acetylcholine receptor (AChR) deficiency and are a common cause of postsynaptic congenital myasthenic syndromes.
Methods:
Clinical, electrophysiologic, pathologic, and molecular studies were done in 39 patients.
Results:
In all but one patient, the disease presented in the first 2 years of life. In 9 patients, the myasthenic symptoms included constant or episodic ophthalmoparesis, and 1 patient had a pure limb-girdle phenotype. More than one-half of the patients experienced intermittent exacerbations. Long-term follow-up was available in 25 patients after start of cholinergic therapy: 21 became stable or were improved and 2 of these became asymptomatic; 3 had a progressive course; and 1 died in infancy. In 7 patients who had endplate studies, the average counts of AChR per endplate and the synaptic response to ACh were less reduced than in patients harboring low AChR expressor mutations. Eight patients were homozygous and 23 heterozygous for the common p.N88K mutation. Six mutations, comprising 3 missense mutations, an in-frame deletion, a splice-site mutation, and a nonsense mutation, are novel. Homozygosity for p.N88K was associated with varying grades of severity. No genotype-phenotype correlations were observed except in 8 Near-Eastern patients homozygous for the promoter mutation (c.-38A>G), who had a mild course.
Conclusions:
All but 1 patient presented early in life and most responded to cholinergic agonists. With early diagnosis and therapy, rapsyn deficiency has a benign course in most patients. There was no consistent phenotype-genotype correlation except for an E-box mutation associated with jaw deformities.
GLOSSARY
= 3,4-diaminopyridine;
= α-bungarotoxin;
= acetylcholine receptor;
= compound muscle action potential;
= congenital myasthenic syndrome;
= endplate;
= miniature endplate currents;
= miniature endplate potentials;
= tetratricopeptide.
doi:10.1212/WNL.0b013e3181ae7cbc
PMCID: PMC2715575  PMID: 19620612
25.  Molecular Assembly and Biosynthesis of Acetylcholinesterase in Brain and Muscle: the Roles of t-peptide, FHB Domain, and N-linked Glycosylation 
Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) is responsible for the hydrolysis of the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, in the nervous system. The functional localization and oligomerization of AChE T variant are depending primarily on the association of their anchoring partners, either collagen tail (ColQ) or proline-rich membrane anchor (PRiMA). Complexes with ColQ represent the asymmetric forms (A12) in muscle, while complexes with PRiMA represent tetrameric globular forms (G4) mainly found in brain and muscle. Apart from these traditional molecular forms, a ColQ-linked asymmetric form and a PRiMA-linked globular form of hybrid cholinesterases (ChEs), having both AChE and BChE catalytic subunits, were revealed in chicken brain and muscle. The similarity of various molecular forms of AChE and BChE raises interesting question regarding to their possible relationship in enzyme assembly and localization. The focus of this review is to provide current findings about the biosynthesis of different forms of ChEs together with their anchoring proteins.
doi:10.3389/fnmol.2011.00036
PMCID: PMC3200509  PMID: 22046147
acetylcholinesterase; butyrylcholinesterase; assembly; membrane trafficking; glycosylation

Results 1-25 (720747)