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.
- SH-EP1 cells
- nicotinic acetylcholine receptor
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pharmacology (medical)