Helsingin yliopisto


Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut

University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006

Upregulation and Functionality of Neuronal Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors

Jukka Pakkanen

Doctoral dissertation, April 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Pharmacy, Division of Pharmacology and Toxicology and University of Bath.

Cigarette smoking is, in developed countries, the leading cause of premature death. In tobacco smoke, the main addictive compound is nicotine, which in the brain binds to neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (neuronal nAChRs). These have been implicated in addiction, but also in several neurological disorders including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, Tourette's syndrome, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, pain, depression, and autosomal-dominant noctural frontal lobe epilepsy; all of which makes nAChRs an intriguing target of study.

Chronic treatment with nicotine leads to an increase in the number of nAChRs (upregulation) in the brain and changes their functionality. Changes in the properties of nAChRs are likely to occur in smokers as well, since they are exposed to nicotine for long periods of time. Several nAChR subtypes likely play a role in the formation of nicotine addiction by participating in the release of dopamine in the striatum. The aim of this study was to clarify at cellular level the changes in nAChR characteristics resulting from chronic nicotine treatment.

SH-SY5Y cells, endogenously several nAChR-expressing, and SH-EP1-h-alfa7 cells, transfected with the alfa 7 nAChR subunit gene were treated chronically with nicotine. The localisation of alfa 7 and beta2 subunits was studied with confocal and electron microscopy. Functionality of nAChRs was studied with calcium fluorometry. Effects of long-term treatment with opioid compounds on nAChRs were studied by means of ligand binding.

Confocal microscopy showed that in SH-SY5Y cells, alfa7 and beta2 subunits formed clusters, unlike the case in SH-EP1-h alfa7 cells, where alfa7 nAChRs were distributed more diffusely. The majority of nAChR subunits localised on endoplasmic reticulum (ER). The isomers of methadone acted as agonists at alfa7 nAChRs. Acute morphine challenge also stimulated nAChRs. Chronic treatment with methadone or morphine led to an increased number of nAChRs. In animal studies, mice received nicotine for 7 weeks. Electron microscopical analysis of the localisation of nAChRs showed in the striatum that alfa7 and beta2 nAChR subunits localised synaptically, extrasynaptically, and intracellularly, with the majority localising extrasynaptically. Chronic nicotine treatment caused an increase in the number of nAChR subunits at all studied locations.

These results suggest that the alfa7 nAChR and beta2 subunit-containing nAChRs respond to chronic nicotine treatment differently. This may indicate that the functional balance of various nAChR subtypes in control of the release of dopamine is altered as a result of chronic nicotine treatment. Compounds binding both to opioid and nACh receptors may be of clinical importance.

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Last updated 05.04.2006

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