Expression of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in Alzheimer's disease: postmortem investigations and experimental approaches

Behav Brain Res. 2000 Aug;113(1-2):207-15. doi: 10.1016/s0166-4328(00)00215-1.


Nicotinic ligand binding studies have shown rather early that the cholinoceptive system is affected in Alzheimer's disease (AD). Today, molecular histochemistry enables one to study the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) subunit expression on the cellular level in human autopsy brains, in animal models and in in vitro approaches, thus deciphering the distribution of nAChRs and their role as potential therapeutic targets. The studies on the nAChR expression in the frontal and temporal cortex of AD patients and age-matched controls could demonstrate that both, the numbers of alpha4- and alpha7-immunoreactive neurons and the quantitative amount, in particular of the alpha4 protein, were markedly decreased in AD. Because the number of the corresponding mRNA expressing neurons was unchanged these findings point to a translational/posttranslational rather than a transcriptional event as an underlying cause. This assumption is supported by direct mutation screening of the CHRNA4 gene which showed no functionally important mutations. To get more insight into the underlying mechanisms, two model systems organotypic culture and primary hippocampal culture - have been established, both allowing to mimic nAChR expression in vitro. In ongoing studies the possible impact of beta-amyloid (Abeta) on nAChR expression is tested. Preliminary results obtained from primary cultures point to an impaired nAChR expression following Abeta exposure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / analysis
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / pathology
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / analysis*
  • alpha7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Chrna7 protein, human
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • alpha7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor
  • nicotinic acetylcholine receptor alpha4 subunit