Background: Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are members of a superfamily of fast neurotransmitter-gated receptor channels that includes the gamma-aminobutyric acidA (GABAA), glycine and serotonin type 3 (5-HT3) receptors. Most previous work on the interactions of general anesthetics with nAChRs has involved the muscle-type receptor. The authors investigate the effects of general anesthetics on defined mammalian neuronal and muscle nAChRs expressed in Xenopus oocytes.
Methods: Complementary deoxyribonucleic acid (cDNA) or messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) encoding for various neuronal or muscle nAChR subunits was injected into Xenopus oocytes, and the resulting ACh-activated currents were studied using the two-electrode voltage-clamp technique. The effects of halothane, isoflurane, sevoflurane, and propofol on the peak acetylcholine-induced currents were investigated, and concentration-response curves were constructed.
Results: The neuronal nAChRs were found to be much more sensitive to general anesthetics than were the muscle nAChRs, with IC50 concentrations being 10- to 35-fold less for the neuronal receptors. For the inhalational general anesthetics, the IC50 concentrations were considerably less than the free aqueous concentrations that cause general anesthesia in mammals. In addition, qualitative (dependence on acetylcholine concentration) and quantitative (steepness of concentration-response curves) differences in the anesthetic interactions between the neuronal and muscle nAChRs suggest that different mechanisms of inhibition may be involved.
Conclusions: Although there is considerable uncertainty about the physiologic roles that neuronal nAChRs play in the central nervous system, their extraordinary sensitivity to general anesthetics, particularly the inhalational agents, suggests they may mediate some of the effects of general anesthetics at surgical, or even subanesthetic, concentrations.