The nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (AChR) is the archetype of the Cys-loop ligand-gated ion channel receptor superfamily. Noncompetitive antagonists inhibit the AChR without interacting directly with agonist sites. Among noncompetitive antagonists, general and local anesthetics have been used for decades to study the structure and function of muscle- as well as neuronal-type AChRs. In this review, we address and update all information regarding the characterization of binding sites and the mechanism of action for n-alkanols, barbiturates, inhalational and dissociative general anesthetics, as well as for tertiary and quaternary local anesthetics. The experimental evidence outlined in this review suggest that: (1) several neuronal-type AChRs might be targets for the pharmacological action of distinct anesthetics; (2) the molecular components of a specific anesthetic locus on a certain receptor type are different from the structural determinants of the site for the same anesthetic on a different receptor type; (3) there are unique binding sites for distinct anesthetics in the same receptor; (4) the affinity of a specific anesthetic depends on the AChR conformational state; (5) anesthetics may inhibit AChRs by different mechanisms including open-channel-blocking, augmenting the desensitization process, and/or inactivating the opening of resting receptors; and (6) some anesthetics may potentiate AChR activity.
Keywords: muscle-type nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, ligand-gated ion channel, transmembrane domain, cytoplasmic domain, cryo-electron microscopy, cys-loop receptor, n-alkanols, barbiturate, dizocilpine, ketamine