Neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are ligand-gated ion channels that are necessary in memory and cognition. They are pentameric and consist of α and β subunits. They are most commonly heteromeric but, can sometimes be homomeric. nAChRs are activated by many ligands including nicotine (exogenous) and acetylcholine (endogenous).nAChRs are located on hippocampal interneurons. The interneurons, although sparse, control the synchronous firing of the pyramidal cells. However, the hippocampal interneuron structure and function is quite diverse and not fully characterized. Therefore, we sought to quantify nAChR subunit mRNA levels using real-time PCR of CA1 hippocampal interneurons.Surprisingly we found that the α3 and β2 mRNA subunits were the highest expressed and highest co-expressed subunits. Additionally, the α4 mRNA subunit was the lowest expressed of the subunits detected. The α4 subunit is one of the most pharmacologically targeted nAChR subunits and is found throughout the rest of the brain at much higher levels than the α3 mRNA subunit. Upon PCR analysis two subpopulations of the α3 and β2 subunits emerged: those that contained 3X more α3 than β2 and those that contained 3X more β2 than α3. Therefore, we hypothesized that two likely α3β2 nAChR stoichiometries are present in hippocampal interneurons. We differentiated their kinetic properties using electrophysiology.Additionally, like the α4 subunit, the α7 subunit is highly targeted in cognitive therapeutics. Since, the α7 subunit is the most characterized nAChR subunit, there are current efforts to develop allosteric modulators of the α7 subunit. The α7 subunit is found at moderate levels within hippocampal interneurons and remains a valid target. Current treatment options for Alzheimer's disease, and other dementias are limited and only mildly effective. Therefore, we sought to characterize the effect of 3-furan-2-yl-N-p-tolyl-acrylamide (PAM-2) on α7.Furthermore, there are no current methods to distinguish the α7 from the α7β2 nAChRs during whole cell electrophysiological recordings. Therefore, we also characterized the PAM-2 effect on α7β2 nAChRs. Our results highlight at least 2 ways PAM-2 can be used to differentiate α7 from the α7β2 during whole-cell recordings.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Physiology and Developmental Biology



Date Submitted


Document Type





nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), hippocampus, interneurons, electrophysiology, allosteric modulators, real-time PCR