Naunyn-Schmiedeberg's Archives of Pharmacology

, Volume 356, Issue 3, pp 267–282 | Cite as

Alcohols and neurotransmitter gated ion channels: past, present and future

  • David M. Lovinger
Invited review


The neurotransmitter-gated ion channels form a superfamily of neurotransmitter receptors specialized for recognizing transmitters and rapidly gating ion channels that are contained within the same holoprotein complex. A large body of research indicates that alcohols alter the function of this class of receptor at concentrations relevant to the intoxicating and anesthetic effects of the alcohols. In addition, studies have implicated several types of neurotransmitter-gated channels in intoxicating and anesthetic alcohol actions. All of the neurotransmitter-gated ion channels contain conserved features such as N-terminal ligand binding domains, hydrophobic membrane spanning domains and charged pore-lining domains. However, at least two, and possibly three families of receptors have been identified within the superfamily, including the nicotinic ACh-like receptors, the ionotropic glutamate receptors and the ATP-gated ion channels. This review will begin with a brief overview of the structural features of the different receptors, with an emphasis on comparing and contrasting features of the different families of neurotransmitter-gated channels. The emphasis will be mostly on the nicotinic-like receptors and the iGluRs, since more is known about these receptors than about other types of ligand-activated cation channels. The remainder of the review focuses on the latest studies aimed at determining the mechanism of alcohol actions on this superfamily of receptor-channels as well as the relationship between the molecular structure of these channels and the effects of alcohols on channel function. In addition, emerging directions for future study of these effects of alcohols and possible regions of the protein that may be altered during alcohol exposure are discussed.

Key words Ethanol Nicotinic Receptor 5-HT3 receptor GABAA receptor NMDA receptor Glutamate receptors Integral membrane proteins 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • David M. Lovinger
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, TN 37232-0615, USAUS

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