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1.  Allosteric Modulator Desformylflustrabromine Relieves the Inhibition of α2β2 and α4β2 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors by β-Amyloid1–42 Peptide 
Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are pentameric transmembrane proteins that belong to the cys-loop ligand-gated ion channel family. These receptors are widely expressed in the brain and implicated in the pathophysiology of many neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD), where typical symptoms include the loss of cognitive function and dementia. The presence of extracellular neuritic plaques composed of β amyloid (Aβ1–42) peptide is a characteristic feature of AD. Desformylflustrabromine (dFBr) is a positive allosteric modulator (PAM) for α4β2 nAChRs since it increases peak ACh responses without inducing a response on its own. Previously, the effect of dFBr on the α2β2 nAChR subtype was not known. The action of dFBr was tested on α2β2 receptors expressed in Xenopus oocytes. It was found that dFBr is also a PAM for the α2β2 receptor. Next we tested whether dFBr had any effect on the previously known block of both the α4β2 and α2β2 receptors by Aβ1–42. We found that the functional blockade of ACh-induced currents in oocytes expressing α4β2 and α2β2 receptors by Aβ1–42 was prevented by dFBr. We conclude that dFBr is a positive allosteric modulator for both α4β2 and α2β2 subtypes of nAChRs and that it also relieves the blockade of these receptors by Aβ1–42. This study demonstrates that PAMs for the non-α7 nAChRs have the potential to develop into clinically applicable drugs for AD and other disorders.
PMCID: PMC3235685  PMID: 21424792
Alzheimer’s disease (AD); Beta amyloid (Aβ1–42); Desformylflustrabromine (dFBr); Electrophysiology; Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs); Positive allosteric modulators (PAMs)
2.  Positive allosteric modulation of α4β2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors as a new approach to smoking reduction: evidence from a rat model of nicotine self-administration 
Psychopharmacology  2013;230(2):10.1007/s00213-013-3145-2.
The α4β2 subtype of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) plays a central role in the mediation of nicotine reinforcement. Positive allosteric modulators (PAMs) at α4β2 nAChRs facilitate the intrinsic efficiency of these receptors although they do not directly activate the receptors. α4β2 PAMs are hypothesized to reduce nicotine self-administration in subjects engaged in routine nicotine consumption. The present study tested this hypothesis using a rat model of nicotine self-administration.
Male Sprague-Dawley rats were trained in daily 1 h sessions to intravenously self-administer nicotine (0.03 mg/kg/infusion, free base) on a fixed-ratio 5 schedule. Effects of the α4β2 PAM desformylflustrabromine (dFBr), α4β2 agonist 5-iodo-A-85380, and acetylcholinesterase inhibitor galantamine on nicotine intake were examined. The ability of dFBr and 5-iodo-A-85380 to substitute for nicotine was also assessed.
dFBr and 5-iodo-A-85380 dose-dependently reduced nicotine self-administration without changing lever responses for food. Galantamine decreased self-administration of nicotine and food at high doses. Unlike 5-iodo-A-85380, dFBr failed to substitute for nicotine in supporting self-administration behavior.
These results demonstrated the effectiveness of dFBr in reducing nicotine intake and the inability of dFBr to support self-administration behavior. These findings suggest that positive allosteric modulation of α4β2 nAChRs may be a promising target for the treatment of nicotine addiction. Moreover, α4β2 PAMs, in contrast to agonist medications, may have clinical advantages because they may have little liability for abuse because of their lack of reinforcing actions on their own.
PMCID: PMC3797181  PMID: 23712602
5-iodo-A-85380; desformylflustrabromine; galantamine; nicotine; nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs); positive allosteric modulator; self-administration
3.  Synthesis of desformylflustrabromine and its evaluation as an α4β2 and α7 nACh receptor modulator 
Desformylflustrabromine (dFBr; 1) and desformylflustrabromine-B (dFBr-B; 2) have been previously isolated from natural sources, and the former has been demonstrated to be a novel and selective positive allosteric modulator of α4β2 nicotinic acetylcholine (nACh) receptors. The present study describes the synthesis of water-soluble salts of 1 and 2, and confirms and further investigates the actions of 1 and 2 using two-electrode voltage clamp recordings.
PMCID: PMC3633077  PMID: 17604168
Nicotinic cholinergic receptors; Allosteric modulators
4.  Inhibition of Human α4β2 Neuronal Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors by Volatile Aromatic Anesthetics Depends on Drug Hydrophobicity 
Anesthesia and analgesia  2009;110(2):455-460.
Volatile aromatic compounds such as benzene are general anesthetics that cause amnesia, hypnosis, and immobility in response to noxious stimuli when inhaled. Although these compounds are not used clinically, they are frequently found in commercial items such as solvents and household cleaning products and are abused as inhalant drugs. Volatile aromatic anesthetics are useful pharmacological tools for probing the relationship between chemical structure and drug activity at putative general anesthetic targets. Neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine (nACh) receptors are ligand-gated ion channels widely expressed in the brain, which are thought to play important roles in learning and memory. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that aromatic anesthetics reversibly inhibit α4β2 neuronal nACh receptor function and sought to determine the structural correlates of receptor inhibition.
Electrophysiological techniques were used to quantify the effects of 8 volatile aromatic anesthetics on currents elicited by 1 mM ACh and mediated by human α4β2 nACh receptors expressed in Xenopus oocytes.
All of the volatile aromatic anesthetics used in this study reversibly inhibited α4β2 nACh receptors with IC50 values ranging from 0.00091 atm for 1,2-difluorobenzene to 0.045 atm for hexafluorobenzene. With the exception of hexafluorobenzene, all of the compounds had IC50 values less than minimum alveolar concentration. Inhibitory potency correlated poorly with the cation-π binding energies of the compounds (r2 = 0.48, P = 0.059). However, there was a good correlation between inhibitory potency and the octanol/gas partition coefficient (r2 = 0.87, P = 0.0008).
Volatile aromatic anesthetics potently and reversibly inhibit human α4β2 neuronal nACh receptors. This inhibition may play a role in producing amnesia. In contrast to N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors, the inhibitory potencies of aromatic anesthetics for α4β2 neubronal nACh receptors seem to be dependent on drug hydrophobicity rather than electrostatic properties. This implies that the volatile aromatic anesthetic binding site in the α4β2 neuronal nACh receptor is hydrophobic in character and differs from the nature of the binding site in N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors.
PMCID: PMC3534757  PMID: 19917625
Neuroscience  2008;152(1):70-81.
The notion of functional interactions between the α7 nicotinic acetylcholine (α7 nACh) and the cannabinoid systems is emerging from recent in vitro and in vivo studies. Both the α7 nACh receptor and the cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) are highly expressed in the hippocampus. To begin addressing possible anatomical interactions between the α7 nACh and the cannabinoid systems in the rat hippocampus, we investigated the distribution of neurons expressing α7 nACh mRNA in relation to those containing CB1 mRNA. By in situ hybridization we found that the α7 nACh mRNA is diffusely expressed in principal neurons and is highly expressed in a subset of interneurons. We observed that the pattern of distribution of hippocampal interneurons co-expressing transcripts encoding α7 nACh and glutamate decarboxylase (GAD; synthesizing enzyme of GABA) closely resembles the one displayed by interneurons expressing CB1 mRNA. By double in situ hybridization we established that the majority of hippocampal interneurons expressing α7 nACh mRNA have high levels of CB1 mRNA. As CB1 interneurons contain cholecystokinin (CCK), we investigated the degree of cellular co-expression of α7 nACh mRNA and CCK, and found that the cellular co-existence of α7 nACh and CCK varies within the different layers of the hippocampus.
In summary, we established that most of the hippocampal α7 nACh expressing interneurons are endowed with CB1 mRNA. We found that these α7 nACh/CB1 interneurons are the major subpopulation of hippocampal interneurons expressing CB1 mRNA. The α7 nACh expressing interneurons represent half of the detected population of CCK containing neurons in the hippocampus. Since it is well established that the vast majority of hippocampal interneurons expressing CB1 mRNA have 5-HT type 3 (5-HT3) receptors, we conclude that these hippocampal α7 nACh/5HT3/CB1/CCK interneurons correspond to those previously postulated to relay inputs from diverse cortical and subcortical regions about emotional, motivational, and physiological states.
PMCID: PMC2574619  PMID: 18222041
CB1; 5-HT3 receptors; 5-HT; CCK; Alzheimer’s disease; schizophrenia
6.  Monovalent and divalent cation permeability and block of neuronal nicotinic receptor channels in rat parasympathetic ganglia 
The Journal of General Physiology  1995;105(6):701-723.
Acetylcholine-evoked currents mediated by activation of nicotinic receptors in rat parasympathetic neurons were examined using whole-cell voltage clamp. The relative permeability of the neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine (nACh) receptor channel to monovalent and divalent inorganic and organic cations was determined from reversal potential measurements. The channel exhibited weak selectivity among the alkali metals with a selectivity sequence of Cs+ > K+ > Rb+ > Na+ > Li+, and permeability ratios relative to Na+ (Px/PNa) ranging from 1.27 to 0.75. The selectivity of the alkaline earths was also weak, with the sequence of Mg2+ > Sr2+ > Ba2+ > Ca2+, and relative permeabilities of 1.10 to 0.65. The relative Ca2+ permeability (PCa/PNa) of the neuronal nACh receptor channel is approximately fivefold higher than that of the motor endplate channel (Adams, D. J., T. M. Dwyer, and B. Hille. 1980. Journal of General Physiology. 75:493-510). The transition metal cation, Mn2+ was permeant (Px/PNa = 0.67), whereas Ni2+, Zn2+, and Cd2+ blocked ACh-evoked currents with half-maximal inhibition (IC50) occurring at approximately 500 microM, 5 microM and 1 mM, respectively. In contrast to the muscle endplate AChR channel, that at least 56 organic cations which are permeable to (Dwyer et al., 1980), the majority of organic cations tested were found to completely inhibit ACh- evoked currents in rat parasympathetic neurons. Concentration-response curves for guanidinium, ethylammonium, diethanolammonium and arginine inhibition of ACh-evoked currents yielded IC50's of approximately 2.5- 6.0 mM. The organic cations, hydrazinium, methylammonium, ethanolammonium and Tris, were measureably permeant, and permeability ratios varied inversely with the molecular size of the cation. Modeling suggests that the pore has a minimum diameter of 7.6 A. Thus, there are substantial differences in ion permeation and block between the nACh receptor channels of mammalian parasympathetic neurons and amphibian skeletal muscle which represent functional consequences of differences in the primary structure of the subunits of the ACh receptor channel.
PMCID: PMC2216957  PMID: 7561740
7.  Menthol Binding and Inhibition of α7-Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e67674.
Menthol is a common compound in pharmaceutical and commercial products and a popular additive to cigarettes. The molecular targets of menthol remain poorly defined. In this study we show an effect of menthol on the α7 subunit of the nicotinic acetylcholine (nACh) receptor function. Using a two-electrode voltage-clamp technique, menthol was found to reversibly inhibit α7-nACh receptors heterologously expressed in Xenopus oocytes. Inhibition by menthol was not dependent on the membrane potential and did not involve endogenous Ca2+-dependent Cl− channels, since menthol inhibition remained unchanged by intracellular injection of the Ca2+ chelator BAPTA and perfusion with Ca2+-free bathing solution containing Ba2+. Furthermore, increasing ACh concentrations did not reverse menthol inhibition and the specific binding of [125I] α-bungarotoxin was not attenuated by menthol. Studies of α7- nACh receptors endogenously expressed in neural cells demonstrate that menthol attenuates α7 mediated Ca2+ transients in the cell body and neurite. In conclusion, our results suggest that menthol inhibits α7-nACh receptors in a noncompetitive manner.
PMCID: PMC3720735  PMID: 23935840
8.  Structural Determinates for Apolipoprotein E-Derived Peptide Interaction with the α7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor 
Molecular pharmacology  2007;72(4):838-849.
Neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) signaling has been implicated in a variety of normal central nervous system (CNS) functions as well as an array of neuropathologies. Previous studies have demonstrated both neurotoxic and neuroprotective actions of peptides derived from apolipoprotein E (apoE). It has been discovered that apoE-derived peptides inhibit native and recombinant α7-containing nAChRs, indicating a direct interaction between apoE peptides and nAChRs. To probe the structure/function interaction between α7 nAChRs and the apoE peptide apoE141-148, experiments were conducted in Xenopus laevis oocytes expressing wild-type and mutated nAChRs. Mutation of Trp55 to alanine blocks apoE peptide-induced inhibition of acetylcholine (ACh)-mediated α7 nAChR responses. Additional mutations at Trp55 suggest that hydrophobic interactions between the receptor and apoE141-148 are essential for inhibition of α7 nAChR function. A mutated apoE peptide also demonstrated decreased inhibition at α7-W55A nAChRs as well as activity-dependent inhibition of both wild-type α7 nAChRs and α7-W55A receptors. Finally, a three-dimensional model of the α7 nAChR was developed based on the recently refined Torpedo marmorata nACh receptor. A structural model is proposed for the binding of apoE141-148 to the α7 nAChR where the peptide binds at the interface between two subunits, near the ACh binding site. Similar to the functional data, the computational docking suggests the importance of hydrophobic interactions between the α7 nAChR and the apoE peptide for inhibition of receptor function. The current data suggest a mode for apoE peptide binding that directly blocks α7 nAChR activity and consequently may disrupt nAChR signaling.
PMCID: PMC2742887  PMID: 17609418
9.  Structurally Similar Allosteric Modulators of α7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors Exhibit Five Distinct Pharmacological Effects* 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2014;290(6):3552-3562.
Background: Nicotinic receptors are activated by acetylcholine and have been implicated in several neurological disorders.
Results: Allosteric modulators, sharing close chemical similarity, exhibit five distinct pharmacological effects on α7 nicotinic receptors.
Conclusion: Small changes in chemical structure have profound effects on the pharmacological properties of allosteric modulators.
Significance: These findings may provide opportunities for novel approaches to therapeutic drug discovery.
Activation of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) is associated with the binding of agonists such as acetylcholine to an extracellular site that is located at the interface between two adjacent receptor subunits. More recently, there has been considerable interest in compounds, such as positive and negative allosteric modulators (PAMs and NAMs), that are able to modulate nAChR function by binding to distinct allosteric sites. Here we examined a series of compounds differing only in methyl substitution of a single aromatic ring. This series of compounds includes a previously described α7-selective allosteric agonist, cis-cis-4-p-tolyl-3a,4,5,9b-tetrahydro-3H-cyclopenta[c]quinoline-8-sulfonamide (4MP-TQS), together with all other possible combinations of methyl substitution at a phenyl ring (18 additional compounds). Studies conducted with this series of compounds have revealed five distinct pharmacological effects on α7 nAChRs. These five effects can be summarized as: 1) nondesensitizing activation (allosteric agonists), 2) potentiation associated with minimal effects on receptor desensitization (type I PAMs), 3) potentiation associated with reduced desensitization (type II PAMs), 4) noncompetitive antagonism (NAMs), and 5) compounds that have no effect on orthosteric agonist responses but block allosteric modulation (silent allosteric modulators (SAMs)). Several lines of experimental evidence are consistent with all of these compounds acting at a common, transmembrane allosteric site. Notably, all of these chemically similar compounds that have been classified as nondesensitizing allosteric agonists or as nondesensitizing (type II) PAMs are cis-cis-diastereoisomers, whereas all of the NAMs, SAMs, and type I PAMs are cis-trans-diastereoisomers. Our data illustrate the remarkable pharmacological diversity of allosteric modulators acting on nAChRs.
PMCID: PMC4319022  PMID: 25516597
Cys Loop Receptor; Membrane Protein; Molecular Pharmacology; Neurobiology; Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors (nAChR); Receptor Structure-Function
10.  Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors control acetylcholine and noradrenaline release in the rodent habenulo-interpeduncular complex 
British journal of pharmacology  2014;171(23):5209-5224.
Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nACh receptors) play a central role in the habenulo-interpeduncular system. We studied nicotine-induced release of NA and ACh in the habenula and interpeduncular nucleus (IPN).
The habenula and IPN were loaded with [3H]-choline or [3H]-NA and placed in superfusion chambers. [3H]-ACh release was also stimulated using nicotinic agonists, electrical pulses and elevated [KCl]o in hippocampal and cortical slices from rats, wild-type mice and mice lacking α5, α7, β2, or β4 nACh receptor subunits. Finally, we analysed nACh receptor subtypes in the IPN using immunoprecipitation.
Nicotine induced release of [3H]-ACh in the IPN of rats and mice. This release was calcium-dependent but not blocked by tetrodotoxin (TTX); moreover, [3H]-ACh release was abolished in β4-knockout mice but was unaffected in β2- and α5-knockout mice. In contrast, nicotine-induced release of [3H]-NA in the IPN and habenula was blocked by TTX and reduced in both β2-knockout and β4-knockout mice, and dose–response curves were right-shifted in α5-knockout mice. Although electrical stimuli triggered the release of both transmitters, [3H]-ACh release required more pulses delivered at a higher frequency.
Our results confirm previous findings that β4-containing nACh receptors are critical for [3H]-ACh release in the mouse IPN. Experiments using α5-knockout mice also revealed that unlike in the hippocampus, nicotine-induced [3H]-NA release in the habenulo-interpeduncular system is altered in this knockout model. As α5-containing nACh receptors play a key role in nicotine intake, our results add NA to the list of transmitters involved in this mechanism.
PMCID: PMC4244193  PMID: 25041479
11.  Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors control acetylcholine and noradrenaline release in the rodent habenulo-interpeduncular complex 
British Journal of Pharmacology  2014;171(23):5209-5224.
Background and purpose
Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nACh receptors) play a central role in the habenulo-interpeduncular system. We studied nicotine-induced release of NA and ACh in the habenula and interpeduncular nucleus (IPN).
Experimental approach
The habenula and IPN were loaded with [3H]-choline or [3H]-NA and placed in superfusion chambers. [3H]-ACh release was also stimulated using nicotinic agonists, electrical pulses and elevated [KCl]o in hippocampal and cortical slices from rats, wild-type mice and mice lacking α5, α7, β2, or β4 nACh receptor subunits. Finally, we analysed nACh receptor subtypes in the IPN using immunoprecipitation.
Key results
Nicotine induced release of [3H]-ACh in the IPN of rats and mice. This release was calcium-dependent but not blocked by tetrodotoxin (TTX); moreover, [3H]-ACh release was abolished in β4-knockout mice but was unaffected in β2- and α5-knockout mice. In contrast, nicotine-induced release of [3H]-NA in the IPN and habenula was blocked by TTX and reduced in both β2-knockout and β4-knockout mice, and dose–response curves were right-shifted in α5-knockout mice. Although electrical stimuli triggered the release of both transmitters, [3H]-ACh release required more pulses delivered at a higher frequency.
Conclusions and implications
Our results confirm previous findings that β4-containing nACh receptors are critical for [3H]-ACh release in the mouse IPN. Experiments using α5-knockout mice also revealed that unlike in the hippocampus, nicotine-induced [3H]-NA release in the habenulo-interpeduncular system is altered in this knockout model. As α5-containing nACh receptors play a key role in nicotine intake, our results add NA to the list of transmitters involved in this mechanism.
PMCID: PMC4244193  PMID: 25041479
12.  Activation of Functional α7-Containing nAChRs in Hippocampal CA1 Pyramidal Neurons by Physiological Levels of Choline in the Presence of PNU-120596 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(11):e13964.
The level of expression of functional α7-containing nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons is believed to be very low compared to hippocampal CA1 interneurons, and for many years this expression was largely overlooked. However, high densities of expression of functional α7-containing nAChRs in CA1 pyramidal neurons may not be necessary for triggering important cellular and network functions, especially if activation of α7-containing nAChRs occurs in the presence of positive allosteric modulators such as PNU-120596.
Methodology/Principal Findings
An approach previously developed for α7-containing nAChRs expressed in tuberomammillary neurons was applied to investigate functional CA1 pyramidal α7-containing nAChRs using rat coronal hippocampal slices and patch-clamp electrophysiology. The majority (∼71%) of tested CA1 pyramidal neurons expressed low densities of functional α7-containing nAChRs as evidenced by small whole-cell responses to choline, a selective endogenous agonist of α7 nAChRs. These responses were potentiated by PNU-120596, a novel positive allosteric modulator of α7 nAChRs. The density of functional α7-containing nAChRs expressed in CA1 pyramidal neurons (and thus, the normalized net effect of activation, i.e., response net charge per unit of membrane capacitance per unit of time) was estimated to be ∼5% of the density observed in CA1 interneurons. The results of this study demonstrate that despite low levels of expression of functional pyramidal α7-containing nAChRs, physiological levels of choline (∼10 µM) are sufficient to activate these receptors and transiently depolarize and even excite CA1 pyramidal neurons in the presence of PNU-120596. The observed effects are possible because in the presence of 10 µM choline and 1–5 µM PNU-120596, a single opening of an individual pyramidal α7-containing nAChR ion channel appears to transiently depolarize (∼4 mV) the entire pyramidal neuron and occasionally trigger action potentials.
1) The majority of hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons express functional α7-containing nAChRs. In the absence of PNU-120596, a positive allosteric modulator of α7 nAChRs, a lack of responsiveness of some hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons to focal application of 0.5–1 mM choline does not imply a lack of expression of functional α7-containing nAChRs in these neurons. Rather, it may indicate a lack of detection of α7-containing nAChR-mediated currents by patch-clamp electrophysiology. 2) PNU-120596 can serve as a powerful tool for detection and enhancement of responsiveness of low densities of functional α7-containing nAChRs such as those present in hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons. 3) In the presence of PNU-120596, physiological concentrations of choline activate functional CA1 pyramidal α7-containing nAChRs and produce step-like currents that cause repetitive step-like depolarizations, occasionally triggering bursts of action potentials in CA1 pyramidal neurons. Therefore, the results of this study suggest that in the presence of PNU-120596 and possibly other positive allosteric modulators, endogenous choline may persistently activate CA1 pyramidal α7-containing nAChRs, enhance the excitability of CA1 pyramidal neurons and thus act as a potent therapeutic agent with potential neuroprotective and cognition-enhancing properties.
PMCID: PMC2980465  PMID: 21103043
13.  Temporally- and spatially-regulated transcriptional activity of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor β4 subunit gene promoter 
Neuroscience  2010;166(3):864-877.
Signaling through nicotinic acetylcholine (nACh) receptors underlies a diverse array of behaviors. In order for appropriate signaling to occur via nACh receptors, it is necessary for the genes encoding the receptor subunits to be expressed in a highly regulated temporal and spatial manner. Here we report a transgenic mouse approach to characterize the transcriptional regulation of the gene encoding the nACh receptor β4 subunit. nACh receptors containing this subunit play critical roles in both the central and peripheral nervous systems. We demonstrate that a 2.3-kilobase pair fragment of the β4 5′-flanking region is capable of directing reporter gene expression in transgenic animals. Importantly, the transcriptional activity of the promoter region is cell-type-specific and developmentally regulated and overlaps to a great extent with endogenous β4 mRNA expression. These data indicate that the 2.3-kilobase pair fragment contains transcriptional regulatory elements critical for appropriate β4 subunit gene expression.
PMCID: PMC2837126  PMID: 20096338
nicotinic receptor; gene expression; transcription
14.  Muscarinic and Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Agonists and Allosteric Modulators for the Treatment of Schizophrenia 
Neuropsychopharmacology  2011;37(1):16-42.
Muscarinic and nicotinic acetylcholine (ACh) receptors (mAChRs and nAChRs) are emerging as important targets for the development of novel treatments for the symptoms associated with schizophrenia. Preclinical and early proof-of-concept clinical studies have provided strong evidence that activators of specific mAChR (M1 and M4) and nAChR (α7 and α2β4) subtypes are effective in animal models of antipsychotic-like activity and/or cognitive enhancement, and in the treatment of positive and cognitive symptoms in patients with schizophrenia. While early attempts to develop selective mAChR and nAChR agonists provided important preliminary findings, these compounds have ultimately failed in clinical development due to a lack of true subtype selectivity and subsequent dose-limiting adverse effects. In recent years, there have been major advances in the discovery of highly selective activators for the different mAChR and nAChR subtypes with suitable properties for optimization as potential candidates for clinical trials. One novel strategy has been to identify ligands that activate a specific receptor subtype through actions at sites that are distinct from the highly conserved ACh-binding site, termed allosteric sites. These allosteric activators, both allosteric agonists and positive allosteric modulators, of mAChR and nAChR subtypes demonstrate unique mechanisms of action and high selectivity in vivo, and may provide innovative treatment strategies for schizophrenia.
PMCID: PMC3238081  PMID: 21956443
acetylcholine; schizophrenia and antipsychotics; drug discovery and drug development; schizophrenia
15.  Effect of agrin on the distribution of acetylcholine receptors and sodium channels on adult skeletal muscle fibers in culture 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1991;115(3):765-778.
We used the loose patch voltage clamp technique and rhodamine- conjugated alpha-bungarotoxin to study the regulation of Na channel (NaCh) and acetylcholine receptor (AChR) distribution on dissociated adult skeletal muscle fibers in culture. The aggregate of AChRs and NaChs normally found in the postsynaptic membrane of these cells gradually fragmented and dispersed from the synaptic region after several days in culture. This dispersal was the result of the collagenase treatment used to dissociate the cells, suggesting that a factor associated with the extracellular matrix was responsible for maintaining the high concentration of AchRs and NaChs at the neuromuscular junction. We tested whether the basal lamina protein agrin, which has been shown to induce the aggregation of AChRs on embryonic myotubes, could similarly influence the distribution of NaChs. By following identified fibers, we found that agrin accelerated both the fragmentation of the endplate AChR cluster into smaller patches as well as the appearance of new AChR clusters away from the endplate. AChR patches which were fragments of the original endplate retained a high density of NaChs, but no new NaCh hotspots were found elsewhere on the fiber, including sites of newly formed AChR clusters. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that extracellular signals regulate the distribution of AChRs and NaChs on skeletal muscle fibers. While agrin probably serves this function for the AChR, it does not appear to play a role in the regulation of the NaCh distribution.
PMCID: PMC2289169  PMID: 1655812
16.  Acetylcholine α7 Nicotinic and Dopamine D2 Receptors Are Targeted to Many of the Same Postsynaptic Dendrites and Astrocytes in the Rodent Prefrontal Cortex 
Synapse (New York, N.y.)  2011;65(12):1350-1367.
The alpha-7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (α7nAChR) and the dopamine D2 receptor (D2R) are both implicated in attentional processes and cognition, mediated in part through the prefrontal cortex (PFC). We examined the dual electron microscopic immunolabeling of α7nAChR and either D2R or the vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT) in rodent PFC to assess convergent functional activation sites. Immunoreactivity (ir) for α7nAChR and/or D2R was seen in the same as well as separate neuronal and glial profiles. At least half of the dually labeled profiles were somata and dendrites, while most labeled axon terminals expressed only D2R-ir. The D2R-labeled terminals were without synaptic specializations or formed inhibitory or excitatory-type synapses with somatodendritic profiles, some of which expressed the α7nAChR and/or D2R. Astrocytic glial processes comprised the majority of nonsomatodendritic α7nAChR or α7nAChR and D2R-labeled profiles. Glial processes containing α7nAChR-ir were frequently located near VAChT-labeled terminals and also showed perisynaptic and perivascular associations. We conclude that in rodent PFC α7nACh and D2R activation can dually modulate (1) postsynaptic dendritic responses within the same or separate but synaptically linked neurons in which the D2R has the predominately presynaptic distribution, and (2) astrocytic signaling that may be crucial for synaptic transmission and functional hyperemia.
PMCID: PMC3356922  PMID: 21858872
electron microscopic immunolabeling; tripartite synapse; schizophrenia; functional hyperemia
17.  Design, Synthesis and Activity of a Series of Arylpyrid-3-ylmethanones as Type I Positive Allosteric Modulators of α7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2013;56(21):8352-8365.
A series of novel arylpyrid-3-ylmethanones (7a-aa) were designed as modulators of α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). The methanones were found to be Type I positive allosteric modulators (PAMs) of human α7 nAChRs expressed in Xenopus ooctyes. Structure activity relationship (SAR) studies resulted in the identification of compound 7v as a potent and efficacious Type I PAM with maximum modulation of a nicotine EC5 response of 1200% and EC50 = 0.18 µM. Compound 7z was active in reversing the effect of scopolamine in the novel object recognition (NOR) paradigm with a minimum effective i.p. dose of 1.0 mg/kg (2.7 µmol/kg). This effect was blocked by the selective α7 nAChR antagonist methyllycaconitine (MLA). These compounds are potent Type I positive allosteric modulators of α7 nAChRs that may have therapeutic value in restoring impaired sensory gating and cognitive deficits in schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.
PMCID: PMC3912855  PMID: 24098954
18.  Contrasting Properties of α7-Selective Orthosteric and Allosteric Agonists Examined on Native Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e55047.
Subtype-selective ligands are important tools for the pharmacological characterisation of neurotransmitter receptors. This is particularly the case for nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), given the heterogeneity of their subunit composition. In addition to agonists and antagonists that interact with the extracellular orthosteric nAChR binding site, a series of nAChR allosteric modulators have been identified that interact with a distinct transmembrane site. Here we report studies conducted with three pharmacologically distinct nicotinic ligands, an orthosteric agonist (compound B), a positive allosteric modulator (TQS) and an allosteric agonist (4BP-TQS). The primary focus of the work described in this study is to examine the suitability of these compounds for the characterisation of native neuronal receptors (both rat and human). However, initial experiments were conducted on recombinant nAChRs demonstrating the selectivity of these three compounds for α7 nAChRs. In patch-clamp recordings on rat primary hippocampal neurons we found that all these compounds displayed pharmacological properties that mimicked closely those observed on recombinant α7 nAChRs. However, it was not possible to detect functional responses with compound B, an orthosteric agonist, using a fluorescent intracellular calcium assay on either rat hippocampal neurons or with human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived neurons (iCell neurons). This is, presumably, due to the rapid desensitisation of α7 nAChR that is induced by orthosteric agonists. In contrast, clear agonist-evoked responses were observed in fluorescence-based assays with the non-desensitising allosteric agonist 4BP-TQS and also when compound B was co-applied with the non-desensitising positive allosteric modulator TQS. In summary, we have demonstrated the suitability of subtype-selective orthosteric and allosteric ligands for the pharmacological identification and characterisation of native nAChRs and the usefulness of ligands that minimise receptor desensitisation for the characterisation of α7 nAChRs in fluorescence-based assays.
PMCID: PMC3558472  PMID: 23383051
19.  Synthesis and evaluation of a conditionally-silent agonist for the α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor 
Bioorganic & medicinal chemistry letters  2013;23(14):10.1016/j.bmcl.2013.05.039.
We introduce the term ‘silent agonists’ to describe ligands that can place the α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) into a desensitized state with little or no apparent activation of the ion channel, forming a complex that can subsequently generate currents when treated with an allosteric modulator. KC-1 (5′-phenylanabaseine) was synthesized and identified as a new silent agonist for the α7 nAChR; it binds to the receptor but does not activate α7 nAChR channel opening when applied alone, and its agonism is revealed by co-application with the type II positive allosteric modulator PNU-120596 in the Xenopus oocyte system. The concise synthesis was accomplished in three steps with the C–C bonds formed via Pd-catalyzed mono-arylation and organolithium coupling with N-Boc piperidinone. Comparative structural analyses indicate that a positive charge, an H-bond acceptor, and an aryl ring in a proper arrangement are needed to constitute one class of silent agonist for the α7 nAChR. Because silent agonists may act on signaling pathways not involving ion channel opening, this class of α7 nAChR ligands may constitute a new alternative for the development of α7 nAChR therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC3882203  PMID: 23746476
Silent-agonist; Allosteric modulator; Ion-channel; Nicotinic receptor
20.  Serotonergic involvement in the amelioration of behavioral abnormalities in dopamine transporter knockout mice by nicotine 
Neuropharmacology  2012;64:348-356.
Dopamine transporter knockout (DAT KO) mice exhibit elevated extracellular dopamine levels in brain regions that include the striatum and the nucleus accumbens, but not the prefrontal cortex. DAT KO mice model some aspects of psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia. Smoking is more common in patients with schizophrenia, suggesting that nicotine might ameliorate aspects of the behavioral abnormalities and/or treatment side effects seen in these individuals. We report nicotine-induced normalization of effects on locomotion and prepulse inhibition of acoustic startle (PPI) in DAT KO mice that require intact serotonin 5-HT1A systems. First, we observed that the marked hyperactivity displayed by DAT KO mice was reduced by administration of nicotine. This nicotine effect was blocked by pretreatment with the non-specific nicotinic acetylcholine (nACh) receptor antagonist mecamylamine, or the 5-HT1A antagonist WAY100635. Secondly, we examined the effects of nicotine on PPI in DAT KO mice. Treatment with nicotine significantly ameliorated the PPI deficits observed in DAT KO mice. The ameliorating action of nicotine on PPI deficits in DAT KO mice was blocked by mecamylamine, the α7 nACh receptor antagonist methyllycaconitine or WAY100635, while the α4β2 nACh receptor antagonist dihydro-β-erythroidinehydrobromide (DHβE) produced only a non-significant trend toward attenuation of nicotine effects. Finally, we observed that administration of the 5-HT1A receptor agonist 8-OH-DPAT also ameliorated the deficit in PPI observed in DAT KO mice. This amelioration was antagonized by pretreatment with WAY100635. These data support the idea that nicotine might ameliorate some of the cognitive dysfunctions found in schizophrenia in a 5-HT1A-dependent fashion.
PMCID: PMC3586235  PMID: 22809709
α7 nACh receptor; α4β2 nACh receptor; 5-HT1A receptor; Schizophrenia; Locomotor activity; Prepulse inhibition
21.  p-(4-Azipentyl)-propofol: A Potent Photoreactive General Anesthetic Derivative of Propofol 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2011;54(23):8124-8135.
We synthesized 2,6-Diisopropyl-4-[3-(3-methyl-3H-diazirin-3-yl)-propyl]-phenol (p-(4-azipentyl)-propofol), or p-4-AziC5-Pro, a novel photoactivable derivative of the general anesthetic propofol. p-4-AziC5-Pro has an anesthetic potency similar to propofol. Like propofol, the compound potentiates inhibitory GABAA receptor current responses and allosterically modulates binding to both agonist and benzodiazepine sites, assayed on heterologously expressed GABAA receptors. p-4-AziC5-Pro inhibits excitatory current responses of nACh receptors expressed in Xenopus oocytes and photoincorporates into native nACh receptor-enriched Torpedo membranes. Thus p-4-AziC5-Pro is a functional general anesthetic that both modulates and photoincorporates into Cys-loop ligand-gated ion channels, making it an excellent candidate for use in identifying propofol binding sites.
PMCID: PMC3580944  PMID: 22029276
22.  Allosteric Modulation of Muscarinic Acetylcholine Receptors 
Current Neuropharmacology  2007;5(3):157-167.
Muscarinic acetylcholine receptors (mAChRs) are prototypical Family A G protein coupled-receptors. The five mAChR subtypes are widespread throughout the periphery and the central nervous system and, accordingly, are widely involved in a variety of both physiological and pathophysiological processes. There currently remains an unmet need for better therapeutic agents that can selectively target a given mAChR subtype to the relative exclusion of others. The main reason for the lack of such selective mAChR ligands is the high sequence homology within the acetylcholine-binding site (orthosteric site) across all mAChRs. However, the mAChRs possess at least one, and likely two, extracellular allosteric binding sites that can recognize small molecule allosteric modulators to regulate the binding and function of orthosteric ligands. Extensive studies of prototypical mAChR modulators, such as gallamine and alcuronium, have provided strong pharmacological evidence, and associated structure-activity relationships (SAR), for a “common” allosteric site on all five mAChRs. These studies are also supported by mutagenesis experiments implicating the second extracellular loop and the interface between the third extracellular loop and the top of transmembrane domain 7 as contributing to the common allosteric site. Other studies are also delineating the pharmacology of a second allosteric site, recognized by compounds such as staurosporine. In addition, allosteric agonists, such as McN-A-343, AC-42 and N-desmethylclozapine, have also been identified. Current challenges to the field include the ability to effectively detect and validate allosteric mechanisms, and to quantify allosteric effects on binding affinity and signaling efficacy to inform allosteric modulator SAR.
PMCID: PMC2656816  PMID: 19305798
Acetylcholine; allosteric interaction; G protein-coupled receptor; molecular modeling; muscarinic acetylcholine receptor; mutagenesis; radioligand binding; structure-activity studies; ternary complex model.
23.  Regulation of the Nicotinic Receptor Alpha7 Subunit by Chronic Stress and Corticosteroids 
Brain research  2010;1325:141-146.
The α7 subunit of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (NAchRα7) is one of the principal brain receptors for nicotine and is thought to be a mediator of nicotine’s pro-cognitive effects. While nicotine is known to interact with the stress axis, little is known about the effect of stress or corticosteroids on the expression in the hippocampus, a brain region important to both cognition and stress reactivity. We examined the effects of chronic (21 day) restraint stress (CRS) and adrenalectomy with hormone replacement with the selective mineralocorticoid receptor (MR) agonist aldosterone, the selective glucocorticoid receptor (GR) agonist RU28,362 or corticosterone for 7 days, on the hippocampal expression of NAchRα7 mRNA and protein, as measured by 125I α-Bungarotoxin autoradiography. We found that CRS increase the levels of NAchRα7 mRNA in the CA1, CA3 and Dentate gyrus while levels of the protein were lowered by the same treatment. Corticosteroid replacement showed a GR specific increase in NAchRα7 mRNA, consistent with a corticosteroid mediated effect of CRS. While the mechanism behind these observations is as yet unclear, they may be neuroprotective against the damaging effects of CRS or an example of adaptation to the allostatic load produced by CRS.
PMCID: PMC2856334  PMID: 20153739
24.  Voltage- and Temperature-Dependent Allosteric Modulation of α7 Nicotinic Receptors by PNU120596 
Alpha7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (α7 nAChR) are widely distributed throughout the central nervous system and are found at particularly high levels in the hippocampus and cortex. Several lines of evidence indicate that pharmacological enhancement of α7 nAChRs function could be a potential therapeutic route to alleviate disease-related cognitive deficits. A recent pharmacological approach adopted to increase α7 nAChR activity has been to identify selective positive allosteric modulators (PAMs). α7 nAChR PAMs have been divided into two classes: type I PAMs increase agonist potency with only subtle effects on kinetics, whereas type II agents produce additional dramatic effects on desensitization and deactivation kinetics. Here we report novel observations concerning the pharmacology of the canonical type II PAM, PNU120596. Using patch clamp analysis of acetylcholine (ACh)-mediated currents through recombinant rat α7 nAChR we show that positive allosteric modulation measured in two different ways is greatly attenuated when the temperature is raised to near physiological levels. Furthermore, PNU120596 largely removes the strong inward rectification usually exhibited by α7 nAChR-mediated responses.
PMCID: PMC3246268  PMID: 22207849
nicotinic receptors; electrophysiology; allosteric modulator; channel; patch clamp
25.  Positive allosteric modulators as an approach to nicotinic acetylcholine receptor- targeted therapeutics: advantages and limitations 
Biochemical pharmacology  2011;82(8):915-930.
Neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR), recognized targets for drug development in cognitive and neuro-degenerative disorders, are allosteric proteins with dynamic interconversions between multiple functional states. Activation of the nAChR ion channel is primarily controlled by the binding of ligands (agonists, partial agonists, competitive antagonists) at conventional agonist binding sites, but is also regulated in either negative or positive ways by the binding of ligands to other modulatory sites. In this review, we discuss models for the activation and desensitization of nAChR, and the discovery of multiple types of ligands that influence those processes in both heteromeric nAChR, such as the high affinity nicotine receptors of the brain, and homomeric α7-type receptors. In recent years, α7 nAChRs have been identified as a potential target for therapeutic indications leading to the development of α7-selective agonists and partial agonists. However, unique properties of α7 nAChR, including low probability of channel opening and rapid desensitization, may limit the therapeutic usefulness of ligands binding exclusively to conventional agonist binding sites. New enthusiasm for the therapeutic targeting of α7 has come from the identification of α7-selective positive allosteric modulators (PAMs) that work effectively on the intrinsic factors that limit α7 ion channel activation. While these new drugs appear promising for therapeutic development, we also consider potential caveats and possible limitations for their use, including PAM-insensitive forms of desensitization and cytotoxicity issues.
PMCID: PMC3162128  PMID: 21575610
Alzheimer’s disease; schizophrenia; drug development; electrophysiology; modeling

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