Pharmacological and functional comparisons of α6/α3β2β3-nAChRs and α4β2-nAChRs heterologously expressed in the human epithelial SH-EP1 cell line

De jie Chen, Fen fei Gao, Xiao kuang Ma, Gang gang Shi, Yuan bing Huang, Quang xi Su, Sterling Sudweeks, Ming Gao, Turner Dharshaun, Jason Brek Eaton, Yong chang Chang, J. Michael Mcintosh, Ronald J. Lukas, Paul Whiteaker, Scott C. Steffensen, Jie Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors containing α6 subunits (α6*-nAChRs) show highly restricted distribution in midbrain neurons associated with pleasure, reward, and mood control, suggesting an important impact of α6*-nAChRs in modulating mesolimbic functions. However, the function and pharmacology of α6*-nAChRs remain poorly understood because of the lack of selective agonists for α6*-nAChRs and the challenging heterologous expression of functional α6*-nAChRs in mammalian cell lines. In particular, the α6 subunit is commonly co-expressed with α4*-nAChRs in the midbrain, which masks α6*-nAChR (without α4) function and pharmacology. In this study, we systematically profiled the pharmacology and function of α6*-nAChRs and compared these properties with those of α4β2 nAChRs expressed in the same cell line. Heterologously expressed human α6/α3 chimeric subunits (α6 N-terminal domain joined with α3 trans-membrane domains and intracellular loops) with β2 and β3 subunits in the human SH-EP1 cell line (α6*-nAChRs) were used. Patch-clamp whole-cell recordings were performed to measure these receptor-mediated currents. Functionally, the heterologously expressed α6*-nAChRs exhibited excellent function and showed distinct nicotine-induced current responses, such as kinetics, inward rectification and recovery from desensitization, compared with α4β2-nAChRs. Pharmacologically, α6*-nAChR was highly sensitive to the α6 subunit-selective antagonist α-conotoxin MII but had lower sensitivity to mecamylamine and dihydro-β-erythroidine. Nicotine and acetylcholine were found to be full agonists for α6*-nAChRs, whereas epibatidine and cytisine were determined to be partial agonists. Heterologously expressed α6*-nAChRs exhibited pharmacology and function distinct from those of α4β2-nAChRs, suggesting that α6*-nAChRs may mediate different cholinergic signals. Our α6*-nAChR expression system can be used as an excellent cell model for future investigations of α6*-nAChR function and pharmacology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1571-1581
Number of pages11
JournalActa Pharmacologica Sinica
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • SH-EP1 cells
  • acetylcholine
  • nicotine
  • nicotinic acetylcholine receptor
  • patch-clamp

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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