Agonist-induced displacement of quinacrine from its binding site on the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor: Plausible agonist membrane partitioning mechanism

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It was previously demonstrated that high concentrations of cholinergic agonists such as acetylcholine (ACh), carbamylcholine (CCh), suberyldicholine (SubCh) and spin-labelled acetylcholine (SL-ACh) displaced quinacrine from its high-affinity binding site located at the lipid-protein interface of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (AChR) (Arias, H. R. and Johnson, D. A. (1995) Biochemistry, 34, 1589-1595). In order to account for the agonist self-inhibitory binding site which overlaps, at least partially, with the quinacrine binding site, we determined the partition coefficient (Kp) of these agonists relative to the local anaesthetic tetracaine in AChR native membranes from Torpedo californica electric organ by examining (1) the ability of tetracaine and SL-ACh to quench membrane-partitioned 1-pyrenedecanoic acid (C10-Py) monomer fluorescence, and (2) the ability of ACh, CCh and SubCh to induce an increase in the excimer/monomer ratio of C10-Py-labelled AChR membrane fluorescence. To further assess the differences in agonist accessibility to the quinacrine binding site, we calculated the agonist concentration in the lipid membrane (CM) at an external agonist concentration high enough to inhibit 50% of quinacrine binding (IC50), which in turn was obtained by agonist back titration of AChR-bound quinacrine. initial experiments established that high agonist concentrations do not affect either transmembrane proton concentration equilibria (pH) of AChR membrane suspension or AChR-bound quinacrine fluorescence spectra. The agonist membrane partitioning experiments indicated relatively small (≤20) Kp values relative to tetracaine. These values follow the order: SL-ACh > SubCh s< CCh - ACh. A direct correlation was observed between Kp and the apparent inhibition constant (Ki) for agonists to displace AChR-bound quinacrine. Particularly, agonists with high Kps such as SL-ACh and SubCh showed low Ki values, and this relationship was opposite for CCh and ACh. The calculated CM values indicated significant (between 7 and 54 mM) agonist accessibility to lipid membrane. By themselves, these results support the conjecture that agonist self-inhibition seems to be mediated by the quinacrine binding site via a membrane approach mechanism. The existence of an agonist self-inhibitory binding site not located in the channel lumen would indicate an allosteric mechanism of ion channel inhibition; however, we can not discard that the process of agonist self-inhibition can also be mediated by a steric blockage of the ion channel.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-347
Number of pages9
JournalMolecular Membrane Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Jan 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • Agonist inhibitory binding site
  • Agonist partition coefficient
  • Fluorescence spectroscopy
  • Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor
  • Non-competitive inhibitor binding
  • Torpedo native membranes


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