While it has long been documented that nicotine contained in tobacco leaves gives rise to major public health problems it has also been observed that this alkaloid can have beneficial effects. However, it is only with the identification of a family of genes coding for the neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors and increased knowledge of their expression and function in the central nervous system that these receptors have received attention concerning their potential as drug targets. In light of the latest findings about nicotinic acetylcholine receptors and their involvement in disease states we review the possibility to design new drugs targeted to these ligand-gated channels. Beneficial and possible undesirable actions of agonists, antagonists and allosteric modulators are discussed and placed in perspective of our most recent knowledge.
Keywords: nicotinic receptor, disease, drug design, neurodegeneration
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