The alpha7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (α7 nAChR) is widely distributed in the human brain and has been implicated in a number of human central nervous system (CNS) diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and autism. Recently, new roles for α7 nAChRs in lung cancer and heart disease have been elucidated. Despite the importance of this receptor in human pathology, many technical difficulties are still encountered when investigating the role of α7 nAChRs. Electrophysiological analysis of the receptor upon heterologous expression or in human tissues was limited by the fast desensitization of α7-mediated nicotinic currents and by tissue availability. In addition, animal models for the human diseases related to α7 nAChRs have long been unavailable. The recent development of new imaging and analysis approaches such as PET and receptor microtransplantation have rendered the study of α7 nAChRs increasingly feasible, paving new roads to the design of therapeutic drugs. This review summarizes the current knowledge and recent findings obtained by these novel approaches.
Keywords: micro-transplantation, calcium detection, pet, α7-nAChR, intracellular, positron, tomography, emisision, desensitization, heterologous
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