Stoichiometry-selective modulation of α4β2 nicotinic ACh receptors by divalent cations

Simone Mazzaferro, John R. Strikwerda, Steven M. Sine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and Purpose: α4β2 nicotinic ACh receptors (nAChRs) comprise the most abundant class of nAChRs in the nervous system. They assemble in two stoichiometric forms, each exhibiting distinct functional and pharmacological signatures. However, whether one or both forms are modulated by calcium or magnesium has not been established. Experimental Approach: To assess the functional consequences of calcium and magnesium, each stoichiometric form was expressed in clonal mammalian fibroblasts and single-channel currents were recorded in the presence of a range of ACh concentrations. Key Results: In the absence of divalent cations, each stoichiometric form exhibits high unitary conductance and simple gating kinetics composed of solitary channel openings or short bursts of openings. However, in the presence of calcium and magnesium, the conductance and gating kinetics change in a stoichiometry-dependent manner. Calcium and magnesium reduce the conductance of both stoichiometric forms, with each cation producing an equivalent reduction, but the reduction is greater for the (α4)2(β2)3 form. Moreover, divalent cations promote efficient channel opening of the (α4)3(β2)2 stoichiometry, while minimally affecting the (α4)2(β2)3 stoichiometry. For the (α4)3(β2)2 stoichiometry, at high but not low ACh concentrations, calcium in synergy with magnesium promote clustering of channel openings into episodes of many openings in quick succession. Conclusion and Implications: Modulation of the α4β2 nAChR by divalent cations depends on the ACh concentration, the type of cation and the subunit stoichiometry. The functional consequences of modulation are expected to depend on the regional distributions of the stoichiometric forms and synaptic versus extrasynaptic locations of the receptors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1353-1370
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Pharmacology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • calcium modulation
  • magnesium
  • nAChR
  • single-ion channels

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology


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