Protein and mRNA levels of nicotinic receptors in brain of tobacco using controls and patients with Alzheimer's disease

Neuroscience. 2003;122(2):515-20. doi: 10.1016/s0306-4522(03)00460-3.


The neuronal nicotinic receptors (nAChRs) are involved in several processes in brain including nicotine dependence and cognitive disorders. While the number of nAChRs in the brain of tobacco smokers is up-regulated, the receptors are reduced in the brain of patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD). The aim of this study was to investigate nAChR mRNA and protein levels in brain of smoking and non-smoking controls and AD patients. Western blotting and RT-PCR techniques were used to quantify different nAChR subunits in autopsy brain. The alpha4 and alpha7 but not the alpha3 nAChR protein levels were significantly increased in the temporal cortex of smoking (SC) compared with non-smoking controls (NSC). The alpha4-protein level was significantly higher in the temporal cortex of smoking AD (SAD) patients compared with non-smoking AD (NSAD). No changes in the alpha3, alpha4 or alpha7 subunits protein level were found in the hippocampus in any of the smoking groups. For both SADs and NSADs the protein levels for the alpha3 and alpha4 in temporal cortex and hippocampus and alpha7 in the hippocampus were significantly lower compared with non-smoking controls. No significant differences in alpha4 and alpha7 mRNA levels were detected in the hippocampus or temporal cortex of smokers compared with non-smokers. In conclusion this study showed an increased level of alpha4 and alpha7 nAChRs subunits in the temporal cortex of SC compared with NSC. This up-regulation was also seen in SAD although the protein levels of nAChR subunits were still lower in smoking AD brain compared with the NSC. The up-regulation of nAChRs in smoking groups and the loss of these receptors in AD patients were not correlated to any changes at the mRNA level suggesting that these changes may reflect post-transcriptional events.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism*
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Protein Subunits / genetics
  • Protein Subunits / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / biosynthesis*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / genetics
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / metabolism*
  • Smoking / metabolism*
  • Temporal Lobe / metabolism
  • Temporal Lobe / pathology
  • alpha7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor


  • Chrna7 protein, human
  • Protein Subunits
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • alpha7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor
  • nicotinic receptor subunit alpha3