Desensitization of neuronal nicotinic receptors of human neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y cells during short or long exposure to nicotine

Br J Pharmacol. 2005 Dec;146(8):1087-95. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjp.0706426.


Neuronal nicotinic ACh receptors (nAChRs) readily desensitize in the presence of an agonist. However, when the agonist is applied for minutes, hours or days, it is unclear how extensive desensitization is, how long it persists after agonist removal and whether nAChRs consequently change their pharmacological properties. These issues were explored with electrophysiological studies of native receptors of voltage-clamped human neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y cells. Puffer pulses of nicotine (1 mM)-evoked inward currents partly antagonized by methyllycaconitine (MLA; 10 nM) or alpha-conotoxin MII (MII; 10 nM), suggesting contribution by alpha7 and alpha3 subunit containing receptors, respectively. Nicotine-evoked currents desensitized with 150 ms time constant and fully recovered after a few s washout. Although the current induced by 10 min application of nicotine (10 microM) decayed to baseline indicating complete desensitization, puffer applications of maximally effective doses of nicotine still generated small responses (22% of control). Similar responses to puffer-applied nicotine were observed when nicotine was chronically incubated for 8 or 48 h. On nicotine washout, cells recovered their response amplitude within 5 min and then increased it (about 50% of untreated controls) after 30 min without altering response kinetics or sensitivity to MLA and MII. The present results suggest that native nAChRs of SH-SY5Y cells preserved a degree of responsiveness during chronic application of nicotine, and that they rapidly recovered on washout to generate larger responses without changes in kinetics or pharmacology. These data indicate strong compensatory mechanisms to retain nicotinic receptor function during long-term exposure to nicotine.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aconitine / analogs & derivatives
  • Aconitine / pharmacology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Conotoxins / pharmacology
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Neuroblastoma
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Nicotine / pharmacology*
  • Nicotinic Agonists / pharmacology*
  • Nicotinic Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / drug effects*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / metabolism
  • Up-Regulation
  • alpha7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor


  • Chrna7 protein, human
  • Conotoxins
  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Nicotinic Antagonists
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • alpha7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor
  • nicotinic receptor subunit alpha3
  • methyllycaconitine
  • Nicotine
  • Aconitine