Molecular and Chemical Neuropathology

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 3–11

Nicotinic receptors in the brain

Molecular biology, function, and therapeutics


  • Catherine Vidal
    • Institut Pasteur
Part I: Nicotinergic Receptors in Neurodegenerative Disorders

DOI: 10.1007/BF02815199

Cite this article as:
Vidal, C. Molecular and Chemical Neuropathology (1996) 28: 3. doi:10.1007/BF02815199


Although the psychological and physiological effects of nicotine have long suggested that nicotine exerts specific actions in the brain, the identification of neuronal nicotinic receptors (nAChRs) only began in the past few years with the development of molecular genetics. It is now clear that neuronal nAChRs form a family of highly heterogenous receptor subtypes, as evidenced by the number of genes encoding nAChR subunits, the diversity of immunopurified receptor proteins, and the multiple functional types of ligand-gated ion channels. Neuronal nAChRs have discrete localizations within the brain, and are involved in modulating neuronal firing and transmitter release. Cumulative evidence from animal and human studies indicates that nicotinic systems play a major role in higher cognitive functions and dysfunctions. In particular, the loss of cortical nAChRs is a neurochemical hallmark of Alzheimer (AD) and Parkinson (PD) diseases. In addition, nicotine improves memory and attention in AD and PD. Our recent studies using electrophysiological biochemical and behavioral approaches suggest that the prefrontal cortex is a major target site for the cognitive actions of nicotine.

Index Entries

Nicotinic receptoracetylcholineglutamateAlzheimer diseaseParkinson diseasehippocampusneocortexprefrontal cortexworking memoryattention
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Copyright information

© Humana Press Inc. 1996