Strychnine activates neuronal α7 nicotinic receptors after mutations in the leucine ring and transmitter binding site domains

Eleonora Palma, Sergio Fucile, Benedetta Barabino, Ricardo Miledi, Fabrizio Eusebi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent work has shown that strychnine, the potent and selective antagonist of glycine receptors, is also an antagonist of nicotinic acetylcholine (AcCho) receptors including neuronal homomeric α7 receptors, and that mutating Leu-247 of the α7 nicotinic AcCho receptor-channel domain (L247Tα7; mut1) converts some nicotinic antagonists into agonists. Therefore, a study was made of the effects of strychnine on Xenopus oocytes expressing the chick wild-type α7 or L247Tα7 receptors. In these oocytes, strychnine itself did not elicit appreciable membrane currents but reduced the currents elicited by AcCho in a reversible and dose-dependent manner. In sharp contrast, in oocytes expressing L247Tα7 receptors with additional mutations at Cys-189 and Cys-190, in the extracellular N-terminal domain (L247T/C189-190Sα7; mut2), micromolar concentrations of strychnine elicited inward currents that were reversibly inhibited by the nicotinic receptor blocker α-bungarotoxin. Single-channel recordings showed that strychnine gated mut2-channels with two conductance levels, 56 pS and 42 pS, and with kinetic properties similar to AcCho-activated channels. We conclude that strychnine is a modulator, as well as an activator, of some homomeric nicotinic α7 receptors. After injecting oocytes with mixtures of cDNAs encoding mut1 and mut2 subunits, the expressed hybrid receptors were activated by strychnine, similar to the mut2, and had a high affinity to AcCho like the mut1. A pentameric symmetrical model yields the striking conclusion that two identical α7 subunits may be sufficient to determine the functional properties of α7 receptors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13421-13426
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - Nov 9 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • General


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