Point-to-point ligand–receptor interactions across the subunit interface modulate the induction and stabilization of conformational states of alpha7 nAChR by benzylidene anabaseines

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The homomeric α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor is a well-studied therapeutic target, though its characteristically rapid desensitization complicates the development of drugs with specific agonist effects. Moreover, some experimental compounds such as GTS-21 (2,4diMeOBA), a derivative of the α7-selective partial agonist benzylidene anabaseine (BA), produce a prolonged residual desensitization (RD) in which the receptor remains non-activatable long after the drug has been removed from extracellular solution. In contrast, the desensitization caused by GTS-21's dihydroxy metabolite (2,4diOHBA) is relatively short-lived. RD is hypothetically due to stable binding of the ligand to the receptor in its desensitized state. We can attribute the reduction in RD to a single BA hydroxyl group on the 4′ benzylidene position. Computational prediction derived from homology modeling showed the serine36 (S36) residue of α7 as a reasonable candidate for point-to-point interaction between BA compounds and the receptor. Through evaluating the activity of BA and simple derivatives on wild-type and mutant α7 receptors, it was observed that the drug–receptor pairs which were capable of hydrogen bonding at residue 36 exhibited significantly less stable desensitization. Further experiments involving the type II positive allosteric modulator (PAM) PNU-120596 showed that the various BA compounds' preference to induce either a PAM-sensitive (Ds) or PAM-insensitive (Di) desensitized state is concentration dependent and suggested that both states are destabilized by S36 H-bonding. These results indicate that the fine-tuning of agonists for specific interaction with S36 can facilitate the development of therapeutics with targeted effects on ion channel desensitization properties and conformational state stability.

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