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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The Drosophila nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunits Dα5 and Dα7 form functional homomeric and heteromeric ion channels

Stuart J Lansdell1, Toby Collins1, Jim Goodchild2 and Neil S Millar1*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology, University College London, London, UK

2 Syngenta, Jealotts Hill International Research Centre, Bracknell, Berkshire, UK

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Citation and License

BMC Neuroscience 2012, 13:73  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-13-73

Published: 22 June 2012

Abstract

Background

Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) play an important role as excitatory neurotransmitters in vertebrate and invertebrate species. In insects, nAChRs are the site of action of commercially important insecticides and, as a consequence, there is considerable interest in examining their functional properties. However, problems have been encountered in the successful functional expression of insect nAChRs, although a number of strategies have been developed in an attempt to overcome such difficulties. Ten nAChR subunits have been identified in the model insect Drosophila melanogaster (Dα1-Dα7 and Dβ1-Dβ3) and a similar number have been identified in other insect species. The focus of the present study is the Dα5, Dα6 and Dα7 subunits, which are distinguished by their sequence similarity to one another and also by their close similarity to the vertebrate α7 nAChR subunit.

Results

A full-length cDNA clone encoding the Drosophila nAChR Dα5 subunit has been isolated and the properties of Dα5-, Dα6- and Dα7-containing nAChRs examined in a variety of cell expression systems. We have demonstrated the functional expression, as homomeric nAChRs, of the Dα5 and Dα7 subunits in Xenopus oocytes by their co-expression with the molecular chaperone RIC-3. Also, using a similar approach, we have demonstrated the functional expression of a heteromeric ‘triplet’ nAChR (Dα5 + Dα6 + Dα7) with substantially higher apparent affinity for acetylcholine than is seen with other subunit combinations. In addition, specific cell-surface binding of [125I]-α-bungarotoxin was detected in both Drosophila and mammalian cell lines when Dα5 was co-expressed with Dα6 and RIC-3. In contrast, co-expression of additional subunits (including Dα7) with Dα5 and Dα6 prevented specific binding of [125I]-α-bungarotoxin in cell lines, suggesting that co-assembly with other nAChR subunits can block maturation of correctly folded nAChRs in some cellular environments.

Conclusion

Data are presented demonstrating the ability of the Drosophila Dα5 and Dα7 subunits to generate functional homomeric and also heteromeric nAChRs.