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Concept: Muscarinic acetylcholine receptor


Nicotine cigarette smoke is a large public health burden worldwide, contributing to various types of disease. Anti-tobacco media campaigns and control programs have significantly reduced smoking in the United States, yet trends for menthol cigarette smoking have not been as promising. Menthol cigarette smoking is particularly prevalent among young adults and African Americans, with implications for long-term impacts on health care. Continuing high rates of menthol cigarette addiction call into question the role of menthol in nicotine addiction. To date, a biological basis for the high rate of addiction and relapse among menthol cigarette smokers has not been defined. Studies have demonstrated a role for menthol in the metabolism of nicotine in the body. More recent findings now reveal an interaction between menthol and the nicotinic acetylcholine (nACh) receptor in cells. This receptor is central to the actions of nicotine in the brain, and plays an important role in nicotine addiction. The newly discovered effect of menthol on nACh receptors may begin to explain the unique addictive properties of menthol cigarettes.

Concepts: Smoking, Tobacco smoking, Cigarette, Nicotine, Addiction, Acetylcholine, Muscarinic acetylcholine receptor, Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor


Habitual chewing of “betel nut” preparations constitutes the fourth most common human self-administration of a psychoactive substance after alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. The primary active ingredient in these preparations is arecoline, which comes from the areca nut, the key component of all such preparations. Arecoline is known to be a relatively non-selective muscarinic partial agonist, accounting for many of the overt peripheral and central nervous system effects, but not likely to account for the addictive properties of the drug. We report that arecoline has activity on select nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) subtypes, including the two classes of nAChR most related to the addictive properties of nicotine: receptors containing α4 and β2 subunits and those which also contain α6 and β3 subunits. Arecoline is a partial agonist with about 6-10% efficacy for the α4* and α6* receptors expressed in Xenopus oocytes. Additionally, arecoline is a silent agonist of α7 nAChR; while it does not activate α7 receptors when applied alone, it produces substantial activation when co-applied with the positive allosteric modulator PNU-120696. Some α7 silent agonists are effective inhibitors of inflammation, which might account for anti-inflammatory effects of arecoline. Arecoline’s activity on nAChR associated with addiction may account for the habitual use of areca nut preparations in spite of the well-documented risk to personal health associated with oral diseases and cancer. The common link between betel and tobacco suggests that partial agonist therapies with cytisine or the related compound varenicline may also be used to aid betel cessation attempts.

Concepts: Nicotine, Acetylcholine, Muscarinic acetylcholine receptor, Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, Acetylcholine receptor, Ibogaine, Cytisine, Areca nut


Opioids are first-line drugs for moderate to severe acute pain and cancer pain. However, these medications are associated with severe side effects, and whether they are efficacious in treatment of chronic nonmalignant pain remains controversial. Medications that act through alternative molecular mechanisms are critically needed. Antagonists of α9α10 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) have been proposed as an important nonopioid mechanism based on studies demonstrating prevention of neuropathology after trauma-induced nerve injury. However, the key α9α10 ligands characterized to date are at least two orders of magnitude less potent on human vs. rodent nAChRs, limiting their translational application. Furthermore, an alternative proposal that these ligands achieve their beneficial effects by acting as agonists of GABAB receptors has caused confusion over whether blockade of α9α10 nAChRs is the fundamental underlying mechanism. To address these issues definitively, we developed RgIA4, a peptide that exhibits high potency for both human and rodent α9α10 nAChRs, and was at least 1,000-fold more selective for α9α10 nAChRs vs. all other molecular targets tested, including opioid and GABAB receptors. A daily s.c. dose of RgIA4 prevented chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain in rats. In wild-type mice, oxaliplatin treatment produced cold allodynia that could be prevented by RgIA4. Additionally, in α9 KO mice, chemotherapy-induced development of cold allodynia was attenuated and the milder, temporary cold allodynia was not relieved by RgIA4. These findings establish blockade of α9-containing nAChRs as the basis for the efficacy of RgIA4, and that α9-containing nAChRs are a critical target for prevention of chronic cancer chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain.

Concepts: Nicotine, Pain, Acetylcholine, Myasthenia gravis, Muscarinic acetylcholine receptor, Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, Acetylcholine receptor, Dextromethorphan


The parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system regulates the activity of multiple organ systems. Muscarinic receptors are G-protein-coupled receptors that mediate the response to acetylcholine released from parasympathetic nerves. Their role in the unconscious regulation of organ and central nervous system function makes them potential therapeutic targets for a broad spectrum of diseases. The M2 muscarinic acetylcholine receptor (M2 receptor) is essential for the physiological control of cardiovascular function through activation of G-protein-coupled inwardly rectifying potassium channels, and is of particular interest because of its extensive pharmacological characterization with both orthosteric and allosteric ligands. Here we report the structure of the antagonist-bound human M2 receptor, the first human acetylcholine receptor to be characterized structurally, to our knowledge. The antagonist 3-quinuclidinyl-benzilate binds in the middle of a long aqueous channel extending approximately two-thirds through the membrane. The orthosteric binding pocket is formed by amino acids that are identical in all five muscarinic receptor subtypes, and shares structural homology with other functionally unrelated acetylcholine binding proteins from different species. A layer of tyrosine residues forms an aromatic cap restricting dissociation of the bound ligand. A binding site for allosteric ligands has been mapped to residues at the entrance to the binding pocket near this aromatic cap. The structure of the M2 receptor provides insights into the challenges of developing subtype-selective ligands for muscarinic receptors and their propensity for allosteric regulation.

Concepts: Nervous system, Receptor, Neurotransmitter, Acetylcholine, Muscarinic acetylcholine receptor, Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, Acetylcholine receptor, Atropine


Although the activity of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) is exquisitely sensitive to its membrane environment, the underlying mechanisms remain poorly defined. The homologous prokaryotic pentameric ligand gated ion channel, GLIC, represents an excellent model for probing the molecular basis of nAChR sensitivity due to its high structural homology, ease of expression, and amenability to crystallographic analysis. We show here that membrane-reconstituted GLIC exhibits structural and biophysical properties similar to those of membrane-reconstituted nAChR, although GLIC is substantially more thermally stable. GLIC, however, does not possess the same exquisite lipid sensitivity. In particular, GLIC does not exhibit the same propensity to adopt an uncoupled conformation where agonist binding is uncoupled from channel gating. Structural comparisons provide insight into the chemical features that may predispose the nAChR to the formation of an uncoupled state.

Concepts: Receptor, Acetylcholine, Ion channels, Myasthenia gravis, Muscarinic acetylcholine receptor, Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, Acetylcholine receptor, Ligand-gated ion channel


BACKGROUND: Tulbaghia violacea Harv. (Alliaceae) is used to treat various ailments, including hypertension (HTN) in South Africa. This study aims to evaluate the contributions of muscarinic receptors and changes in plasma aldosterone levels to its anti-hypertensive effect. METHODS: In the acute experiments, methanol leaf extracts (MLE) of T. violacea (30 - 120 mg/kg), muscarine (0.16 -10 ug/kg), and atropine (0.02 - 20.48 mg/kg), and/or the vehicle (dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO) and normal saline (NS)) were respectively and randomly administered intravenously in a group of spontaneously hypertensive (SHR) weighing 300 to 350g and aged less than 5 months. Subsequently, T. violacea (60 mg/kg) or muscarine (2.5 ug/kg) was infused into eight SHRs, 20 minutes after atropine (5.12 mg/kg) pre-treatment. In the chronic (21 days) experiments, the SHRs were randomly divided into three groups, and given the vehicle (0.2 ml/day of DMSO and NS), T. violacea (60 mg/kg/day) and captopril (10 mg/kg/day) respectively into the peritoneum, to investigate their effects on blood pressure (BP), heart rate (HR), and plasma aldosterone levels. Systolic BP and HR were measured using tail-cuff plethysmography during the intervention. BP and HR were measured via a pressure transducer connecting the femoral artery and the Powerlab at the end of each intervention in the acute experiment; and on day 22 in the chronic experiment. RESULTS: In the acute experiments, T. violacea, muscarine, and atropine significantly (p < 0.05) reduced BP dose-dependently. T. violacea and muscarine produced dose-dependent decreases in HR, while the effect of atropine on HR varied. After atropine pre-treatment, dose-dependent increases in BP and HR were observed with T. violacea; while the BP and HR effects of muscarine were nullified. In the chronic experiments, the T. violacea-treated and captropril-treated groups had signicantly lower levels of aldosterone in plasma when compared to vehicle-treated group. Compared to the vehicle-treated group, significant reduction in BP was only seen in the captopril-treated group; while no difference in HR was observed among the groups. CONCLUSION: The results obtained in this study suggest that stimulation of the muscarinic receptors and a reduction in plasma aldosterone levels contribute to the anti-hypertesive effect of T. violacea.

Concepts: Hypertension, Blood pressure, Receptor, Acetylcholine, Muscarinic acetylcholine receptor, Atropine, Muscarine, Tulbaghia


BACKGROUND: Honokiol, a cell-permeable phenolic compound derived from the bark of magnolia trees and present in Asian herbal teas, has a unique array of pharmacological actions, including the inhibition of multiple autonomic responses. We determined the effects of honokiol on calcium signaling underlying transmission mediated by human M3 muscarinic receptors expressed in Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells. Receptor binding was determined in radiolabelled ligand binding assays; changes in intracellular calcium concentrations were determined using a fura-2 ratiometric imaging protocol; cytotoxicity was determined using a dye reduction assay. RESULTS: Honokiol had a potent (EC50 [almost equal to] 5 mumol/l) inhibitory effect on store operated calcium entry (SOCE) that was induced by activation of the M3 receptors. This effect was specific, rapid and partially reversible, and was seen at concentrations not associated with cytotoxicity, inhibition of IP3 receptor-mediated calcium release, depletion of ER calcium stores, or disruption of M3 receptor binding. CONCLUSIONS: It is likely that an inhibition of SOCE contributes to honokiol disruption of parasympathetic motor functions, as well as many of its beneficial pharmacological properties.

Concepts: Receptor, Cell signaling, Acetylcholine, G protein coupled receptors, Metabotropic receptor, Muscarinic acetylcholine receptor, Oxybutynin, Muscarinic acetylcholine receptor M3


Neurotransmitter corelease is emerging as a common theme of central neuromodulatory systems. Though corelease of glutamate or GABA with acetylcholine has been reported within the cholinergic system, the full extent is unknown. To explore synaptic signaling of cholinergic forebrain neurons, we activated choline acetyltransferase expressing neurons using channelrhodopsin while recording post-synaptic currents (PSCs) in layer 1 interneurons. Surprisingly, we observed PSCs mediated by GABAA receptors in addition to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. Based on PSC latency and pharmacological sensitivity, our results suggest monosynaptic release of both GABA and ACh. Anatomical analysis showed that forebrain cholinergic neurons express the GABA synthetic enzyme Gad2 and the vesicular GABA transporter (Slc32a1). We confirmed the direct release of GABA by knocking out Slc32a1 from cholinergic neurons. Our results identify GABA as an overlooked fast neurotransmitter utilized throughout the forebrain cholinergic system. GABA/ACh corelease may have major implications for modulation of cortical function by cholinergic neurons.

Concepts: Nicotine, Neurotransmitter, Acetylcholine, Myasthenia gravis, Muscarinic acetylcholine receptor, Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, GABAA receptor, Ligand-gated ion channel


Excess sugar consumption has been shown to contribute directly to weight gain, thus contributing to the growing worldwide obesity epidemic. Interestingly, increased sugar consumption has been shown to repeatedly elevate dopamine levels in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), in the mesolimbic reward pathway of the brain similar to many drugs of abuse. We report that varenicline, an FDA-approved nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) partial agonist that modulates dopamine in the mesolimbic reward pathway of the brain, significantly reduces sucrose consumption, especially in a long-term consumption paradigm. Similar results were observed with other nAChR drugs, namely mecamylamine and cytisine. Furthermore, we show that long-term sucrose consumption increases α4β2 * and decreases α6β2* nAChRs in the nucleus accumbens, a key brain region associated with reward. Taken together, our results suggest that nAChR drugs such as varenicline may represent a novel treatment strategy for reducing sugar consumption.

Concepts: Ventral tegmental area, Nicotine, Neurotransmitter, Acetylcholine, Muscarinic acetylcholine receptor, Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, Dopamine, Mesolimbic pathway


The current frontline symptomatic treatment for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is whole-body upregulation of cholinergic transmission via inhibition of acetylcholinesterase. This approach leads to profound dose-related adverse effects. An alternative strategy is to selectively target muscarinic acetylcholine receptors, particularly the M1 muscarinic acetylcholine receptor (M1 mAChR), which was previously shown to have procognitive activity. However, developing M1 mAChR-selective orthosteric ligands has proven challenging. Here, we have shown that mouse prion disease shows many of the hallmarks of human AD, including progressive terminal neurodegeneration and memory deficits due to a disruption of hippocampal cholinergic innervation. The fact that we also show that muscarinic signaling is maintained in both AD and mouse prion disease points to the latter as an excellent model for testing the efficacy of muscarinic pharmacological entities. The memory deficits we observed in mouse prion disease were completely restored by treatment with benzyl quinolone carboxylic acid (BQCA) and benzoquinazoline-12 (BQZ-12), two highly selective positive allosteric modulators (PAMs) of M1 mAChRs. Furthermore, prolonged exposure to BQCA markedly extended the lifespan of diseased mice. Thus, enhancing hippocampal muscarinic signaling using M1 mAChR PAMs restored memory loss and slowed the progression of mouse prion disease, indicating that this ligand type may have clinical benefit in diseases showing defective cholinergic transmission, such as AD.

Concepts: Receptor, Neurotransmitter, Acetylcholine, Muscarinic acetylcholine receptor, Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, Acetylcholine receptor, Atropine, Oxybutynin