Abstract Molecular manipulations and targeted pharmacological studies provide a compelling picture of which nicotinic receptor subtypes are where in the central nervous system (CNS) and what happens if one activates or deletes them. However, understanding the physiological contribution of nicotinic receptors to endogenous acetylcholine (ACh) signaling in the CNS has proven a more difficult problem to solve. In this review, we provide a synopsis of the literature on the use of optogenetic approaches to control the excitability of cholinergic neurons and to examine the role of CNS nicotinic ACh receptors (nAChRs). As is often the case, this relatively new technology has answered some questions and raised others. Overall, we believe that optogenetic manipulation of cholinergic excitability in combination with some rigorous pharmacology will ultimately advance our understanding of the many functions of nAChRs in the brain.
The amygdala plays an important role in the formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events. The cortical glutamatergic inputs onto pyramidal neurons in the basolateral nucleus of the amygdala (BLA) contribute to this process. As the interaction between neuregulin 1 (Nrg1) and its ErbB receptors has been implicated in the pathological mechanisms of schizophrenia, loss of Nrg1 may disrupt cortical-amygdala neural circuits, resulting in altered processing of salient memories. Here we show that Nrg1 is critical in multiple forms of plasticity of cortical projections to pyramidal neurons of the BLA. The miniature EPSCs in Nrg1 heterozygous animals have a faster time constant of decay and evoked synaptic currents have a smaller NMDA/AMPA ratio than those recorded in wild-type (WT) littermates. Both high-frequency electrical stimulation of cortical inputs and ? burst stimulation combined with nicotine exposure results in long-lasting potentiation in WT animals. However, the same manipulations have little to no effect on glutamatergic synaptic plasticity in the BLA from Nrg1 heterozygous mice. Comparison of WT, Nrg1 heterozygous animals and ?7 nicotinic receptor heterozygous mice reveals that the sustained phase of potentiation of glutamatergic transmission after ? burst stimulation with or without nicotine only occurs in the WT mice. Together, these findings support the idea that type III Nrg1 is essential to multiple aspects of the modulation of excitatory plasticity at cortical-BLA synapses.
The dorsomedial nucleus of the hypothalamus (DMH) contributes to the regulation of overall energy homeostasis by modulating energy intake as well as energy expenditure. Despite the importance of the DMH in the control of energy balance, DMH-specific genetic markers or neuronal subtypes are poorly defined. Here we demonstrate the presence of cholinergic neurons in the DMH using genetically modified mice that express enhanced green florescent protein (eGFP) selectively in choline acetyltransferase (Chat)-neurons. Overnight food deprivation increases the activity of DMH cholinergic neurons, as shown by induction of fos protein and a significant shift in the baseline resting membrane potential. DMH cholinergic neurons receive both glutamatergic and GABAergic synaptic input, but the activation of these neurons by an overnight fast is due entirely to decreased inhibitory tone. The decreased inhibition is associated with decreased frequency and amplitude of GABAergic synaptic currents in the cholinergic DMH neurons, while glutamatergic synaptic transmission is not altered. As neither the frequency nor amplitude of miniature GABAergic or glutamatergic postsynaptic currents is affected by overnight food deprivation, the fasting-induced decrease in inhibitory tone to cholinergic neurons is dependent on superthreshold activity of GABAergic inputs. This study reveals that cholinergic neurons in the DMH readily sense the availability of nutrients and respond to overnight fasting via decreased GABAergic inhibitory tone. As such, altered synaptic as well as neuronal activity of DMH cholinergic neurons may play a critical role in the regulation of overall energy homeostasis.
Presynaptic nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) have long been implicated in the modulation of CNS circuits. We previously reported that brief exposure to low concentrations of nicotine induced sustained potentiation of glutamatergic transmission at ventral hippocampal (vHipp)-striatal synapses. Here, we exploited nAChR subtype-selective antagonists and agonists and ?7*nAChR knockout mutant mice (?7-/-) to elucidate the signaling mechanisms underlying nAChR-mediated modulation of synaptic transmission. Using a combination of micro-slices culture from WT and ?7-/-mice, calcium imaging, and immuno-histochemical techniques, we found that nicotine elicits localized and oscillatory increases in intracellular Ca(2+) along vHipp axons that persists for up to 30 minutes. The sustained phase of the nicotine-induced Ca(2+) response was blocked by ?-BgTx but not by DH?E and was mimicked by ?7*nAChR agonists but not by non-?7*nAChR agonists. In vHipp slices from ?7-/- mice, nicotine elicited only transient increases of axonal Ca(2+) signals and did not activate CaMKII. The sustained phase of the nicotine-induced Ca(2+) response required localized activation of CaMKII, phospholipase C, and IP3 receptor mediated Ca(2+)-induced Ca(2+) release (CICR). In conclusion, activation of presynaptic nAChRs by nicotine elicits Ca(2+) influx into the presynaptic axons, the sustained phase of the nicotine-induced Ca(2+) response requires that axonal ?7*nAChR activate a downstream signaling network in the vHipp axons.
Sensory axons must develop appropriate connections with both central and peripheral targets. Whereas the peripheral cues have provided a classic model for neuron survival and guidance, less is known about the central cues or the coordination of central and peripheral connectivity. Here we find that type III Nrg1, in addition to its known effect on neuron survival, regulates axon pathfinding. In type III Nrg1(-/-) mice, death of TrkA(+) nociceptive/thermoreceptive neurons was increased, and could be rescued by Bax elimination. In the Bax and type III Nrg1 double mutants, axon pathfinding abnormalities were seen for TrkA(+) neurons both in cutaneous peripheral targets and in spinal cord central targets. Axon guidance phenotypes in the spinal cord included penetration of axons into ventral regions from which they would normally be repelled by Sema3A. Accordingly, sensory neurons from type III Nrg1(-/-) mice were unresponsive to the repellent effects of Sema3A in vitro, which might account, at least in part, for the central projection phenotype, and demonstrates an effect of type III Nrg1 on guidance cue responsiveness in neurons. Moreover, stimulation of type III Nrg1 back-signaling in cultured sensory neurons was found to regulate axonal levels of the Sema3A receptor neuropilin 1. These results reveal a molecular mechanism whereby type III Nrg1 signaling can regulate the responsiveness of neurons to a guidance cue, and show that type III Nrg1 is required for normal sensory neuron survival and axon pathfinding in both central and peripheral targets.
Type III Nrg1, a member of the Nrg1 family of signaling proteins, is expressed in sensory neurons, where it can signal in a bi-directional manner via interactions with the ErbB family of receptor tyrosine kinases (ErbB RTKs). Type III Nrg1 signaling as a receptor (Type III Nrg1 back signaling) can acutely activate phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase (PtdIns3K) signaling, as well as regulate levels of ?7* nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, along sensory axons. Transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) is a cation-permeable ion channel found in primary sensory neurons that is necessary for the detection of thermal pain and for the development of thermal hypersensitivity to pain under inflammatory conditions. Cell surface expression of TRPV1 can be enhanced by activation of PtdIns3K, making it a potential target for regulation by Type III Nrg1. We now show that Type III Nrg1 signaling in sensory neurons affects functional axonal TRPV1 in a PtdIns3K-dependent manner. Furthermore, mice heterozygous for Type III Nrg1 have specific deficits in their ability to respond to noxious thermal stimuli and to develop capsaicin-induced thermal hypersensitivity to pain. Cumulatively, these results implicate Type III Nrg1 as a novel regulator of TRPV1 and a molecular mediator of nociceptive function.
Neuregulin 1 (NRG1) signaling is critical to various aspects of neuronal development and function. Among different NRG1 isoforms, the type III isoforms of NRG1 are unique in their ability to signal via the intracellular domain after gamma-secretase-dependent intramembranous processing. However, the functional consequences of type III NRG1 signaling via its intracellular domain are mostly unknown. In this study, we have identified mutations within type III NRG1 that disrupt intramembranous proteolytic processing and abolish intracellular domain signaling. In particular, substitutions at valine 321, previously linked to schizophrenia risks, result in NRG1 proteins that fail to undergo gamma-secretase-mediated nuclear localization and transcriptional activation. Using processing-defective mutants of type III NRG1, we demonstrate that the intracellular domain signaling is specifically required for NRG1 regulation of the growth and branching of cortical dendrites but not axons. Consistent with the role of type III NRG1 signaling via the intracellular domain in the initial patterning of cortical dendrites, our findings from pharmacological and genetic studies indicate that type III NRG1 functions in dendritic development independent of ERBB kinase activity. Together, these results support the proposal that aberrant intramembranous processing and defective signaling via the intracellular domain of type III NRG1 impair a subset of NRG1 functions in cortical development and contribute to abnormal neuroconnectivity implicated in schizophrenia.
Mechanisms by which the inhibitory effect of retinoic acid on tumor growth is attenuated as tumors progress to more advanced stages are unclear.
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