Alpha7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors targeted by cholinergic developmental neurotoxicants: nicotine and chlorpyrifos

Brain Res Bull. 2004 Sep 30;64(3):227-35. doi: 10.1016/j.brainresbull.2004.07.005.


Alpha7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) play a role in axonogenesis, synaptogenesis and synaptic plasticity, and are therefore potential targets for developmental neurotoxicants. We administered nicotine to neonatal rats during discrete periods spanning the onset and peak of axonogenesis/synaptogenesis, focusing on three brain regions with disparate distributions of cell bodies and neural projections: brainstem, forebrain and cerebellum. Nicotine treatment on postnatal days (PN) 1-4 had little or no effect on alpha7 nAChRs but treatment during the second (PN11-14) or third (PN21-24) weeks elicited significant decrements in receptor expression in brainstem and cerebellum, regions containing cell bodies that project to the forebrain. Exposure to chlorpyrifos, a neurotoxicant pesticide that acts partially through cholinergic mechanisms, also elicited deficits in alpha7 nAChRs during the second postnatal week but not the first week. For both nicotine and chlorpyrifos, the effects on alpha7 nAChRs were distinct from those on the alpha4beta2 subtype. Continuous prenatal nicotine exposure, which elicits subsequent, postnatal deficits in axonogenesis and synaptogenesis, also produced delayed-onset changes in alpha7 nAChRs, characterized by reductions in the forebrain and upregulation in the brainstem and cerebellum, a pattern consistent with impaired axonogenesis/synaptogenesis and reactive sprouting. Males were more sensitive to the persistent effects of prenatal nicotine exposure on alpha7 nAChRs, a pattern that mimics neurobehavioral deficits resulting from this treatment. The present findings reinforce the mechanistic involvement of alpha7 nAChRs in the actions of developmental neurotoxicants, and its biomarker potential for neuroteratogens that target neuritic outgrowth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Binding, Competitive / drug effects
  • Binding, Competitive / physiology
  • Biomarkers
  • Brain / abnormalities*
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology
  • Chlorpyrifos / pharmacology*
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Drug Resistance / physiology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / abnormalities
  • Neural Pathways / drug effects
  • Neural Pathways / growth & development
  • Neurites / drug effects
  • Neurites / pathology
  • Neurotoxins / pharmacology*
  • Nicotine / pharmacology*
  • Nicotinic Agonists / pharmacology
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / drug effects*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / metabolism
  • Sex Factors
  • Up-Regulation / drug effects
  • Up-Regulation / physiology
  • alpha7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor


  • Biomarkers
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors
  • Chrna7 protein, rat
  • Neurotoxins
  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • alpha7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor
  • Nicotine
  • Chlorpyrifos
  • Acetylcholine