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RIC-3 differentially modulates α4β2 and α7 nicotinic receptor assembly, expression, and nicotine-induced receptor upregulation

Alejandro Dau12, Pragya Komal1, Mimi Truong1, Geoff Morris1, Gareth Evans12 and Raad Nashmi1*

  • * Corresponding author: Raad Nashmi

  • † Equal contributors

Author affiliations

1 Department of Biology, University of Victoria, Station CSC, PO Box 3020, Victoria, BC, V8W 3N5, Canada

2 Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada

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Citation and License

BMC Neuroscience 2013, 14:47  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-14-47

Published: 15 April 2013



Recent work has shown that the chaperone resistant to inhibitors of acetylcholinesterase (RIC-3) is critical for the folding, maturation and functional expression of a variety of neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. α7 nicotinic receptors can only assemble and functionally express in select lines of cells, provided that RIC-3 is present. In contrast, α4β2 nicotinic receptors can functionally express in many cell lines even without the presence of RIC-3. Depending on the cell line, RIC-3 has differential effects on α4β2 receptor function – enhancement in mammalian cells but inhibition in Xenopus oocytes. Other differences between the two receptor types include nicotine-induced upregulation. When expressed in cell lines, α4β2 receptors readily and robustly upregulate with chronic nicotine exposure. However, α7 nicotinic receptors appear more resistant and require higher concentrations of nicotine to induce upregulation. Could the coexpression of RIC-3 modulate the extent of nicotine-induced upregulation not only for α7 receptors but also α4β2 receptors? We compared and contrasted the effects of RIC-3 on assembly, trafficking, protein expression and nicotine-induced upregulation on both α7 and α4β2 receptors using fluorescent protein tagged nicotinic receptors and Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) microscopy imaging.


RIC-3 increases assembly and cell surface trafficking of α7 receptors but does not alter α7 protein expression in transfected HEK293T cells. In contrast, RIC-3 does not affect assembly of α4β2 receptors but increases α4 and β2 subunit protein expression. Acute nicotine (30 min exposure) was sufficient to upregulate FRET between α4 and β2 subunits. Surprisingly, when RIC-3 was coexpressed with α4β2 receptors nicotine-induced upregulation was prevented. α7 receptors did not upregulate with acute nicotine in the presence or absence of RIC-3.


These results provide interesting novel data that RIC-3 differentially regulates assembly and expression of different nicotinic receptor subunits. These results also show that nicotine-mediated upregulation of α4β2 receptors can be dynamically regulated by the presence of the chaperone, RIC-3. This could explain a novel mechanism why high affinity α4β2 receptors are upregulated in specific neuronal subtypes in the brain and not others.

Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors; Ligand-gated ion channels; RIC-3; FRET; Nicotine