Ion channel of acetylcholine receptor reconstructed from images of postsynaptic membranes

Nature. 1988 Nov 17;336(6196):247-50. doi: 10.1038/336247a0.


The nicotinic acetylcholine receptor belongs to a class of molecules that respond transiently to chemical stimuli by opening a water-filled channel through the cell membrane for cations to diffuse. This channel lies along the central axis delineated by a ring of five homologous, membrane-spanning subunits and thus has properties, such as conductance and ion selectivity, which depend on the profile created by the encircling subunits. Insight has been gained recently about the amino-acid residues implicated directly in the ion transport, and some information about the subunit configuration around the channel has come from electron microscopy studies of postsynaptic membranes crystallized in the form of flattened tubular vesicles. The resolution along the axis of the channel has, however, been limited by the restricted range of views obtainable. Here we report the structure of the channel at 17 A resolution, determined by three-dimensional image reconstruction from tubular vesicles having receptors organized in helical arrays across their surfaces. The helical symmetry is preserved by suspending the tubes in thin films of ice, and the receptors in such tubes can be seen from all angles, allowing the channel to be revealed clearly in relation to the lipid bilayer and the peripheral protein for the first time.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cholesterol / analysis
  • Ethylmaleimide / pharmacology
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Ion Channels / ultrastructure*
  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Macromolecular Substances
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Protein Conformation
  • Receptors, Cholinergic*
  • Synaptic Membranes / ultrastructure*
  • Torpedo / anatomy & histology*
  • X-Ray Diffraction


  • Ion Channels
  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Macromolecular Substances
  • Receptors, Cholinergic
  • Cholesterol
  • Ethylmaleimide