Background: General anesthetics are thought to induce anesthesia through their actions on ligand-gated ion channels. One such channel, the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAcChoR), can be found in different subtypes in the central nervous system and at the periphery in the neuromuscular junction. The latter subtype of the nAcChoR is a useful model for examining interactions between general anesthetics and ligand-gated ion channels, because it can be isolated and purified in sufficient quantities to allow for biophysical and biochemical studies. This study examines the actions of general anesthetics on agonist-induced conversion of the nAcChoR to inactive desensitized conformational states.
Methods: Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor membranes were purified from the electric organ of Torpedo nobiliana. Agonist-induced desensitization was characterized from the time-dependent increase in fluorescence intensity that results from the binding of the fluorescent acetylcholine analog, Dns-C6-Cho, to the nAcChoR.
Results: Mixing Dns-C6-Cho with nAcChoR-rich membranes results in an increase in fluorescence that is characterized by four rate processes. Concentrations of isoflurane and butanol, which range from subclinical to toxic increase the rates of the third and fourth components of fluorescence, corresponding to fast and slow desensitization, respectively. At concentrations that are twice their EC50s for anesthesia, isoflurane, butanol, chloroform, methanol, and cyclopentanemethanol increase the apparent rates of fast and slow desensitization by an average of 92 +/- 22% and 108 +/- 22%, respectively.
Conclusions: The concentration range over which general anesthetics modify the kinetics of nAcChoR desensitization is similar to those reported for anesthetic actions on the GABAA receptor. Thus, the nAcChoR, like other members of this superfamily, is a sensitive target of general anesthetics.