Presynaptic nicotinic receptors and the modulation of transmitter release

Ciba Found Symp. 1990:152:87-101; discussion 102-5. doi: 10.1002/9780470513965.ch6.


Nicotine is increasingly recognized to promote transmitter release in the brain by a direct action on presynaptic terminals. Pharmacological evidence indicates that this action is mediated by nicotinic receptors. From their sensitivity to mecamylamine, neosurugatoxin and neuronal bungarotoxin these presynaptic receptors can be distinguished from alpha-bungarotoxin-sensitive muscle-type nicotinic receptors, and can be correlated with [3H] nicotine binding sites in the brain. The release of many transmitters in different brain regions is susceptible to stimulation by nicotine, but this effect is not ubiquitous. However, lesioning and subcellular fractionation studies suggest that the majority of brain nicotine receptors are located presynaptically, so that a direct influence of nicotine on transmitter release assumes considerable importance. Although the sensitivity of presynaptic receptors is such that they are likely to be partially activated by doses of nicotine obtained by smoking, the desensitization-induced up-regulation of nicotinic binding sites that follows chronic nicotine treatment raises questions about their functional status during tobacco usage. Chronic administration of the agonist (+)anatoxin-a also up-regulated [3H] nicotine binding sites, and led to increased nicotine-evoked transmitter release in vitro. This could have implications for the involvement of these receptors during withdrawal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / physiology
  • Synapses / drug effects
  • Synapses / metabolism*


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Receptors, Nicotinic