Regulation of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor assembly

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2003 Sep;998:66-80. doi: 10.1196/annals.1254.009.


The four muscle-type nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (AChR) subunits, alpha, beta, gamma, and delta, assemble into functional alpha(2)betagammadelta pentamers in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) through a series of interdependent folding and oligomerization events. The first stable assembly intermediate is a trimer composed of alpha, beta, and gamma subunits. The formation of alphabetagamma trimers initiates a series of subunit folding and processing events that allow addition of delta subunits to form alphabetagammadelta tetramers. Subunit folding and processing continue with formation of the ligand-binding sites on the alpha subunit of alphabetagammadelta tetramers and the second alpha subunit added to assemble alpha(2)betagammadelta pentamers. AChR assembly is inefficient. Only 20-30% of synthesized subunits assemble into mature receptors in the ER, while the remaining unassembled subunits are degraded. However, the efficiency of subunit assembly can be regulated under certain conditions leading to higher AChR expression. Increased intracellular cAMP levels cause a 2- to 3-fold increase in AChR assembly efficiency and a comparable increase in surface expression. Additionally, block of ubiquitin-proteasome degradation appears to enhance AChR assembly and expression. Thus, the regulation of AChR assembly through posttranslational mechanisms is a potential therapeutic target for increasing AChR expression in diseases in which expression is compromised.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chaperonins / physiology
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism
  • Gene Expression / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological
  • Protein Conformation
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / chemistry
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / classification
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / genetics
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / metabolism*


  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • Chaperonins