The α(7) acetylcholine receptor (AChR) mediates pre- and postsynaptic neurotransmission in the central nervous system and is a potential therapeutic target in neurodegenerative, neuropsychiatric and inflammatory disorders. We determined the crystal structure of the extracellular domain of a receptor chimera constructed from the human α(7) AChR and Lymnaea stagnalis acetylcholine binding protein (AChBP), which shares 64% sequence identity and 71% similarity with native α(7). We also determined the structure with bound epibatidine, a potent AChR agonist. Comparison of the structures revealed molecular rearrangements and interactions that mediate agonist recognition and early steps in signal transduction in α(7) AChRs. The structures further revealed a ring of negative charge within the central vestibule, poised to contribute to cation selectivity. Structure-guided mutational studies disclosed distinctive contributions to agonist recognition and signal transduction in α(7) AChRs. The structures provide a realistic template for structure-aided drug design and for defining structure-function relationships of α(7) AChRs.
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