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Alpha7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors occur at postsynaptic densities of AMPA receptor-positive and -negative excitatory synapses in rat sensory cortex.

Authors: Levy, RB  Aoki, C 
Citation: Levy RB and Aoki C, J Neurosci. 2002 Jun 15;22(12):5001-15.
Pubmed: (View Article at PubMed) PMID:12077196

NMDA receptor (NMDAR) activation requires concurrent membrane depolarization, and glutamatergic synapses lacking AMPA receptors (AMPARs) are often considered "silent" in the absence of another source of membrane depolarization. During the second postnatal week, NMDA currents can be enhanced in rat auditory cortex through activation of the alpha7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (alpha7nAChR). Electrophysiological results support a mainly presynaptic role for alpha7nAChR at these synapses. However, immunocytochemical evidence that alpha7nAChR is prevalent at postsynaptic sites of glutamatergic synapses in hippocampus and neocortex, along with emerging electrophysiological evidence for postsynaptic nicotinic currents in neocortex and hippocampus, has prompted speculation that alpha7nAChR allows for activation of NMDAR postsynaptically at synapses lacking AMPAR. Here we used dual immunolabeling and electron microscopy to examine the distribution of alpha7nAChR relative to AMPAR (GluR1, GluR2, and GluR3 subunits combined) at excitatory synapses in somatosensory cortex of adult and 1-week-old rats. alpha7nAChR occurred discretely over most of the thick postsynaptic densities in all cortical layers of both age groups. AMPAR immunoreactivity was also detectable at most synapses; its distribution was independent of that of alpha7nAChR. In both age groups, approximately one-quarter of asymmetrical synapses were alpha7nAChR positive and AMPAR negative. The variability of postsynaptic alpha7nAChR labeling density was greater at postnatal day (PD) 7 than in adulthood, and PD 7 neuropil contained a subset of small AMPA receptor-negative synapses with a high density of alpha7nAChR immunoreactivity. These observations support the idea that acetylcholine receptors can aid in activating glutamatergic synapses and work together with AMPA receptors to mediate postsynaptic excitation throughout life.

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RGD Object Information
RGD ID: 1600985
Created: 2007-04-02
Species: All species
Last Modified: 2007-04-02
Status: ACTIVE



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