α7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors Occur at Postsynaptic Densities of AMPA Receptor-Positive and -Negative Excitatory Synapses in Rat Sensory Cortex

Robert B. Levy, Chiye Aoki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

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 α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (α7nAChR). Electrophysiological results support a mainly presynaptic role for α7nAChR at these synapses. However, immunocytochemical evidence that α7nAChR 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 α7nAChR allows for activation of NMDAR postsynaptically at synapses lacking AMPAR. Here we used dual immunolabeling and electron microscopy to examine the distribution of α7nAChR relative to AMPAR (GluR1, GluR2, and GluR3 subunits combined) at excitatory synapses in somatosensory cortex of adult and 1-week-old rats. α7nAChR 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 α7nAChR. In both age groups, approximately one-quarter of asymmetrical synapses were α7nAChR positive and AMPAR negative. The variability of postsynaptic α7nAChR 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 α7nAChR 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5001-5015
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Volume22
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 15 2002

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Keywords

  • AMPA receptor
  • Early postnatal development
  • Electron microscopy
  • Glutamate
  • Immunocytochemistry
  • NMDA receptor
  • Postsynaptic density
  • Receptive field properties
  • Sensory cortex
  • Synaptic plasticity
  • α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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