Unconventional ligands and modulators of nicotinic receptors

J Neurobiol. 2002 Dec;53(4):479-500. doi: 10.1002/neu.10146.


Evidence gathered from epidemiologic and behavioral studies have indicated that neuronal nicotinic receptors (nAChRs) are intimately involved in the pathogenesis of a number of neurologic disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and schizophrenia. In the mammalian brain, neuronal nAChRs, in addition to mediating fast synaptic transmission, modulate fast synaptic transmission mediated by the major excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters glutamate and GABA, respectively. Of major interest, however, is the fact that the activity of the different subtypes of neuronal nAChR is also subject to modulation by substances of endogenous origin such as choline, the tryptophan metabolite kynurenic acid, neurosteroids, and beta-amyloid peptides and by exogenous substances, including the so-called nicotinic allosteric potentiating ligands, of which galantamine is the prototype, and psychotomimetic drugs such as phencyclidine and ketamine. The present article reviews and discusses the effects of unconventional ligands on nAChR activity and briefly describes the potential benefits of using some of these compounds in the treatment of neuropathologic conditions in which nAChR function/expression is known to be altered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / metabolism
  • Anesthetics / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Choline / metabolism
  • Galantamine / pharmacology
  • Hallucinogens / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Kynurenic Acid / metabolism
  • Ligands*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / metabolism*
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Steroids / metabolism


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Anesthetics
  • Hallucinogens
  • Ligands
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • Steroids
  • Galantamine
  • Serotonin
  • Kynurenic Acid
  • Choline