Roles of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor beta subunits in function of human alpha4-containing nicotinic receptors

J Physiol. 2006 Oct 1;576(Pt 1):103-18. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2006.114645. Epub 2006 Jul 6.


Naturally expressed nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR) containing alpha4 subunits (alpha4*-nAChR) in combination with beta2 subunits (alpha4beta2-nAChR) are among the most abundant, high-affinity nicotine binding sites in the mammalian brain. beta4 subunits are also richly expressed and colocalize with alpha4 subunits in several brain regions implicated in behavioural responses to nicotine and nicotine dependence. Thus, alpha4beta4-nAChR also may exist and play important functional roles. In this study, properties were determined of human alpha4beta2- and alpha4beta4-nAChR heterologously expressed de novo in human SH-EP1 epithelial cells. Whole-cell currents mediated via human alpha4beta4-nAChR have approximately 4-fold higher amplitude than those mediated via human alpha4beta2-nAChR and exhibit much slower acute desensitization and functional rundown. Nicotinic agonists induce peak whole-cell current responses typically with higher functional potency at alpha4beta4-nAChR than at alpha4beta2-nAChR. Cytisine and lobeline serve as full agonists at alpha4beta4-nAChR but are only partial agonists at alpha4beta2-nAChR. However, nicotinic antagonists, except hexamethonium, have comparable affinities for functional alpha4beta2- and alpha4beta4-nAChR. Whole-cell current responses show stronger inward rectification for alpha4beta2-nAChR than for alpha4beta4-nAChR at a positive holding potential. Collectively, these findings demonstrate that human nAChR beta2 or beta4 subunits can combine with alpha4 subunits to generate two forms of alpha4*-nAChR with distinctive physiological and pharmacological features. Diversity in alpha4*-nAChR is of potential relevance to nervous system function, disease, and nicotine dependence.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / pharmacology
  • Alkaloids / pharmacology
  • Azocines / pharmacology
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds, Heterocyclic / pharmacology
  • Cell Line
  • Electrophysiology
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Epithelial Cells / drug effects
  • Epithelial Cells / physiology
  • Hexamethonium / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Lobeline / pharmacology
  • Nicotine / pharmacology
  • Nicotinic Agonists / pharmacology
  • Nicotinic Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Pyridines / pharmacology
  • Quinolizines / pharmacology
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / analysis*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / chemistry*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / drug effects
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / physiology*
  • Transfection


  • Alkaloids
  • Azocines
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds, Heterocyclic
  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Nicotinic Antagonists
  • Pyridines
  • Quinolizines
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • alpha(4)beta(4) nicotinic receptor
  • nicotinic acetylcholine receptor alpha4 subunit
  • nicotinic receptor alpha4beta2
  • Hexamethonium
  • cytisine
  • Nicotine
  • Lobeline
  • epibatidine
  • Acetylcholine