Desensitization of nicotinic ACh receptors: shaping cholinergic signaling

Trends Neurosci. 2005 Jul;28(7):371-8. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2005.04.009.


Nicotinic ACh receptors (nAChRs) can undergo desensitization, a reversible reduction in response during sustained agonist application. Although the mechanism of desensitization remains incompletely understood, recent investigations have elucidated new properties underlying desensitization, indicating that it might be important to control synaptic efficacy, responses to cholinergic agents, and certain nAChR-related disease states. Thus, studying how different nAChR subunits contribute to desensitization might help to explain variations in responsiveness to drugs, and might thus improve their therapeutic applications. Agonist-specific desensitization, desensitization arising from resting receptors, natural mutations dramatically altering desensitization, and the possibility that recovery from desensitization is an important process for modulating receptor function, together provide a new framework for considering desensitization as a target to shape cholinergic signaling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiology
  • Drug Tolerance / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • Acetylcholine