Alpha7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are promising novel targets for the treatment of neurocognitive disorders. Although the cognitive enhancer potential of alpha7 nAChR agonists and positive allosteric modulators (PAMs) has been confirmed in several preclinical animal models, there are only sparse in vivo electrophysiological data on their effects on the firing activity and excitability of neurons. The present study investigated and compared local effects of alpha7 nAChR agonist PHA-543613 and PAMs PNU-120596 and NS-1738 on the spontaneous and N-methyl-D-aspartate-evoked (NMDA-evoked) firing rate of rat CA1 hippocampal pyramidal cells, in vivo. Furthermore, effects of alpha7 nAChR antagonist methyllycaconitine (MLA) and GABA were also tested. Results showed substantially different effects of the alpha7 nAChR agonist and PAMs. While PNU-120596 and NS-1738 predominantly and significantly increased both spontaneous and NMDA-evoked firing rate of the neurons, application of PHA-543613 resulted in almost equal distribution of facilitatory and inhibitory effects. The increase of the NMDA-evoked firing rate exerted by NS-1738 was superadditive over the sum of the single effects of NMDA and NS-1738. The simultaneous application of alpha7 nAChR agonist PHA-543613 and PAM NS-1738 resulted in additive increase of both spontaneous and NMDA-evoked firing rate. However, NS-1738 counteracted inhibitory effects of PHA-543613 in 5 out of 6 neurons, resulting in a synergistic potentiation of their firing responses to NMDA. Our results suggest that alpha7 nAChR PAMs increase neuronal excitability more potently than agonists, while the remarkable occurrence of inhibitory effects of PHA-543613 (possibly originating from receptor desensitization) implies that agonists may exert neuroprotective effects.
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