The neuronal alpha6 subunit forms functional heteromeric acetylcholine receptors in human transfected cells

Eur J Neurosci. 1998 Jan;10(1):172-8. doi: 10.1046/j.1460-9568.1998.00001.x.


We examine some of the biological and physiological properties of the avian alpha6 neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) subunit. We show here that, beginning at embryonic day 5, alpha6 mRNA is abundantly expressed in the developing chick neuroretina, where it coexists with other nicotinic receptor subunit mRNAs such as alpha3, beta2 and beta4. In contrast, alpha6 mRNA is absent from the optic tectum and from the peripheral ganglia. Despite numerous efforts, the alpha6 subunit has long failed the critical test of functional reconstitution. Here we use patch-clamp techniques and confocal laser microscopy to measure ACh-activated currents and nicotine-elicited Ca2+ transients in human BOSC 23 cells transfected with chick alpha6 in combination with other chick nAChR neuronal subunits. Heterologously expressed alpha6 and beta4 subunits form functional heteromeric nAChRs, which are permeable to Ca2+ ions and blocked by the nicotinic antagonist methyllycaconitine (10 microM). Likewise, ACh elicits measurable currents in cells transfected with alpha6 and beta2. Hill analysis of the dose-response curves in cells transfected with alpha3, beta4 and alpha6 cDNAs, suggests the assembly of functional alpha3beta4alpha6 receptor, with an apparent affinity for ACh threefold lower than alpha3beta4. Our results indicate that alpha6-containing nAChRs assemble in heterologous expression systems and are probably present in retinal cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Chick Embryo
  • DNA, Complementary
  • Humans
  • Ion Channel Gating / drug effects
  • Ion Channel Gating / physiology*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Neurons / chemistry*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Nicotine / pharmacology
  • Nicotinic Agonists / pharmacology
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / genetics*
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Transfection
  • Visual Pathways / chemistry
  • Visual Pathways / cytology


  • DNA, Complementary
  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • nicotinic receptor alpha6
  • Nicotine
  • Acetylcholine