Assembly and subunit diversity of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors

Biochem Soc Trans. 2003 Aug;31(Pt 4):869-74. doi: 10.1042/bst0310869.


Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are a diverse family of neurotransmitter-gated ion channels which contain five transmembrane subunits arranged around a central pore. Distinct receptor subtypes are expressed at the vertebrate skeletal neuromuscular junction, in mechanosensory cells and within the central and peripheral nervous systems. A total of 17 nAChR subunits (alpha1-alpha10, beta1-beta4, gamma, delta and epsilon ) have been identified in vertebrate species, which can co-assemble to generate a wide variety of nAChRs. Nicotinic receptors also constitute an abundant and diverse family of receptors in invertebrates. As a consequence of studies which have been conducted with both native and recombinant nAChRs, the subunit composition of nAChRs and the rules governing subunit co-assembly are becoming clearer. In this paper the extent of nAChR subunit diversity and evidence for receptor subunit composition is reviewed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Protein Subunits / genetics
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / biosynthesis
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / chemistry*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / genetics
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / metabolism*


  • Protein Subunits
  • Receptors, Nicotinic