Structural and functional changes induced in the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor by membrane phospholipids

J Mol Neurosci. 2006;30(1-2):121-4. doi: 10.1385/JMN:30:1:121.


Ligand-gated ion channels (LGICs) constitute an important family of complex membrane proteins acting as receptors for neurotransmitters (Barnard, 1992; Ortells and Lunt, 1995). The nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) from Torpedo is the most extensively studied member of the LGIC family and consists of a pentameric transmembrane glycoprotein composed of four different polypeptide subunits (alpha, beta, gamma, and delta) in a 2:1:1:1 stoichiometry (Galzi and Changeux, 1995; Hucho et al., 1996) that are arranged pseudosymmetrically around a central cation-selective ion channel. Conformational transitions, from the closed (nonconducting), to agonist-induced open (ion-conducting), to desensitized (nonconducting) states, are critical for functioning of the nAChR (Karlin, 2002). The ability of the nAChR to undergo these transitions is profoundly influenced by the lipid composition of the bilayer (Barrantes, 2004). Despite existing information on lipid dependence of AChR function, no satisfactory explanation has been given on the molecular events by which specific lipids exert such effects on the activity of an integral membrane protein. To date, several hypotheses have been entertained, including (1) indirect effects of lipids through the alteration of properties of the bilayer, such as fluidity (an optimal fluidity hypothesis [Fong and McNamee, 1986]) or membrane curvature and lateral pressure (Cantor, 1997; de Kruijff, 1997), or (2) direct effects through binding of lipids to defined sites on the transmembrane portion of the protein (Jones and McNamee, 1988; Blanton and Wang, 1990; Fernández et al., 1993; Fernández-Ballester et al., 1994), which has led to the postulation of a possible role of certain lipids as peculiar allosteric ligands of the protein. In this paper we have reconstituted purified AChRs from Torpedo into complex multicomponent lipid vesicles in which the phospholipid composition has been systematically altered. Stopped-flow rapid kinetics of cation translocation and Fourier transform-infrared (FT-IR) spectroscopy studies have been used to illustrate the lipid dependence of both AChR function and AChR secondary structure, respectively.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cholesterol / pharmacology
  • Kinetics
  • Membrane Lipids / pharmacology
  • Phospholipids / pharmacology*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / chemistry*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / drug effects
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / physiology*
  • Spectroscopy, Fourier Transform Infrared
  • Torpedo


  • Membrane Lipids
  • Phospholipids
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • Cholesterol