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Developmental changes in the expression of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor α-subunits in the rat heart

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Neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR) are ligand-gated ion channels that consist of various subunits. During ontogeny, muscular and neuronal nAChR undergo changes in the distribution and subunit composition in skeletal muscle and brain, respectively. Here, we have investigated the occurrence of the ligand-binding α-subunits of neuronal nAChR by means of reverse transcription/polymerase chain reaction and immunohistochemistry in the rat heart during prenatal and postnatal development and after capsaicin-induced sensory denervation. mRNAs coding for the α4, α5, α7 and α10 subunits were detected throughout all developmental stages. Messenger coding for the α2 subunit was first detectable at developmental stage E20; α3 subunit mRNA was expressed throughout all prenatal developmental stages, whereas it was restricted postnatally to the atria. mRNA for α6 was observed at E14-P8 but was absent thereafter. At no developmental stage could an unequivocal signal for α9 nAChR subunit mRNA be obtained. The expression pattern was unchanged by capsaicin treatment. Immunohistochemistry demonstrated α7 subunits on cardiac neurons, fibroblasts and cardiomyocytes and α2/4 subunits on cardiomyocytes with a postnatal redistribution to intercalated discs, as shown by cryo-immunoelectron microscopy. Our results indicate an additional non-neuronal expression of nAChR subunits in the rat heart that, as in skeletal muscle, precedes functional innervation and then undergoes changes in its distribution on the surface of cells.

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The authors thank Mr. M. Bodenbenner, Ms. T. Papadakis, Ms. S. Pfreimer and Ms. K. Michael for skilful technical assistance.

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Correspondence to Magdalena Dvorakova.

Additional information

This work was supported by the DFG (LI 1051/1-1 to K.S.L. and GK 543 to W.K.), the Czech Science Foundation (GACR 305/03/D180 to M.D.) and the Erwin-Stein-Stiftung (to M.D.)

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Dvorakova, M., Lips, K.S., Brüggmann, D. et al. Developmental changes in the expression of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor α-subunits in the rat heart. Cell Tissue Res 319, 201–209 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00441-004-1008-1

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  • Cardiomyocyte
  • Development
  • Heart
  • Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor
  • Rat (Wistar)