The Journal of biological chemistry

Binding interactions with the complementary subunit of nicotinic receptors.

PMID 23349463


The agonist-binding site of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) spans an interface between two subunits of the pentameric receptor. The principal component of this binding site is contributed by an α subunit, and it binds the cationic moiety of the nicotinic pharmacophore. The other part of the pharmacophore, a hydrogen bond acceptor, has recently been shown to bind to the complementary non-α subunit via the backbone NH of a conserved Leu. This interaction was predicted by studies of ACh-binding proteins and confirmed by functional studies of the neuronal (CNS) nAChR, α4β2. The ACh-binding protein structures further suggested that the hydrogen bond to the backbone NH is mediated by a water molecule and that a second hydrogen bonding interaction occurs between the water molecule and the backbone CO of a conserved Asn, also on the non-α subunit. Here, we provide new insights into the nature of the interactions between the hydrogen bond acceptor of nicotinic agonists and the complementary subunit backbone. We studied both the nAChR of the neuromuscular junction (muscle-type) and a neuronal subtype, (α4)2(β4)3. In the muscle-type receptor, both ACh and nicotine showed a strong interaction with the Leu NH, but the potent nicotine analog epibatidine did not. This interaction was much attenuated in the α4β4 receptor. Surprisingly, we found no evidence for a functionally significant interaction with the backbone carbonyl of the relevant Asn in either receptor with an array of agonists.