US20070185313A1 - Human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor compositions and methods employing same - Google Patents

Human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor compositions and methods employing same Download PDF

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US20070185313A1
US20070185313A1 US11699270 US69927007A US2007185313A1 US 20070185313 A1 US20070185313 A1 US 20070185313A1 US 11699270 US11699270 US 11699270 US 69927007 A US69927007 A US 69927007A US 2007185313 A1 US2007185313 A1 US 2007185313A1
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dna
cells
nicotinic acetylcholine
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neuronal nicotinic
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Kathryn Elliott
Michael Harpold
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Kojima Press Industry Co Ltd
Toyota Motor Corp
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Toyota Motor Corp
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    • G01MEASURING; TESTING
    • G01NINVESTIGATING OR ANALYSING MATERIALS BY DETERMINING THEIR CHEMICAL OR PHYSICAL PROPERTIES
    • G01N33/00Investigating or analysing materials by specific methods not covered by the preceding groups
    • G01N33/48Biological material, e.g. blood, urine; Haemocytometers
    • G01N33/50Chemical analysis of biological material, e.g. blood, urine; Testing involving biospecific ligand binding methods; Immunological testing
    • G01N33/5005Chemical analysis of biological material, e.g. blood, urine; Testing involving biospecific ligand binding methods; Immunological testing involving human or animal cells
    • G01N33/5008Chemical analysis of biological material, e.g. blood, urine; Testing involving biospecific ligand binding methods; Immunological testing involving human or animal cells for testing or evaluating the effect of chemical or biological compounds, e.g. drugs, cosmetics
    • CCHEMISTRY; METALLURGY
    • C07ORGANIC CHEMISTRY
    • C07KPEPTIDES
    • C07K14/00Peptides having more than 20 amino acids; Gastrins; Somatostatins; Melanotropins; Derivatives thereof
    • C07K14/435Peptides having more than 20 amino acids; Gastrins; Somatostatins; Melanotropins; Derivatives thereof from animals; from humans
    • C07K14/705Receptors; Cell surface antigens; Cell surface determinants
    • C07K14/70571Receptors; Cell surface antigens; Cell surface determinants for neuromediators, e.g. serotonin receptor, dopamine receptor
    • GPHYSICS
    • G01MEASURING; TESTING
    • G01NINVESTIGATING OR ANALYSING MATERIALS BY DETERMINING THEIR CHEMICAL OR PHYSICAL PROPERTIES
    • G01N33/00Investigating or analysing materials by specific methods not covered by the preceding groups
    • G01N33/48Biological material, e.g. blood, urine; Haemocytometers
    • G01N33/50Chemical analysis of biological material, e.g. blood, urine; Testing involving biospecific ligand binding methods; Immunological testing
    • G01N33/53Immunoassay; Biospecific binding assay; Materials therefor
    • G01N33/566Immunoassay; Biospecific binding assay; Materials therefor using specific carrier or receptor proteins as ligand binding reagents where possible specific carrier or receptor proteins are classified with their target compounds

Abstract

DNA encoding human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor alpha and beta subunits, mammalian and amphibian cells containing said DNA, methods for producing alpha and beta subunits and recombinant (i.e., isolated or substantially pure) alpha subunits (specifically α6) and beta subunits (specifically β3) are provided. In addition, combinations of a plurality of subunits (i.e., one or more of α1, α2, α3, α4, α5, α6 and/or α7 subunits in combination with one or more of β3 subunits are provided.

Description

  • This invention relates to DNA encoding human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor protein subunits, as well as the proteins themselves. In particular, human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor α-subunit-encoding DNA, α-subunit proteins, β-subunit-encoding DNA, β-subunit proteins, and combinations thereof are provided.
  • BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
  • Ligand-gated ion channels provide a means for communication between cells of the central nervous system. These channels convert a signal (e.g., a chemical referred to as a neurotransmitter) that is released by one cell into an electrical signal that propagates along a target cell membrane. A variety of neurotransmitters and neurotransmitter receptors exist in the central and peripheral nervous systems. Five families of ligand-gated receptors, including the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) of neuromuscular and neuronal origins, have been identified (Stroud et al. (1990) Biochemistry 29:11009-11023). There is, however, little understanding of the manner in which the variety of receptors generates different responses to neurotransmitters or to other modulating ligands in different regions of the nervous system.
  • The nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are multisubunit proteins of neuromuscular and neuronal origins. These receptors form ligand-gated ion channels that mediate synaptic transmission between nerve and muscle and between neurons upon interaction with the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh). Since various neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) subunits exist, a variety of nAChR compositions (i.e., combinations of subunits) exist. The different nAChR compositions exhibit different specificities for various ligands and are thereby pharmacologically distinguishable. Thus, the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors expressed at the vertebrate neuromuscular junction, in vertebrate sympathetic ganglia and in the vertebrate central nervous system have been distinguished on the basis of the effects of various ligands that bind to different nAChR compositions. For example, the elapid α-neurotoxins that block activation of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors at the neuromuscular junction do not block activation of some neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors that are expressed on several different neuron-derived cell lines.
  • Muscle nAChR is a glycoprotein composed of five subunits with the stoichiometry (α)2β(γ or ε)δ. Each of the subunits has a mass of about 50-60 kilodaltons (kd) and is encoded by-a different gene. The (α)2β(γ or ε)δ complex forms functional receptors containing two ligand binding sites and a ligand-gated transmembrane channel. Upon interaction with a cholinergic agonist, muscle nicotinic nAChRs conduct sodium ions. The influx of sodium ions rapidly short-circuits the normal ionic gradient maintained across the plasma membrane, thereby depolarizing the membrane. By reducing the potential difference across the membrane, a chemical signal is transduced into an electrical signal at the neuromuscular junction that induces muscle contraction.
  • Functional muscle nicotinic acetylcholine receptors have been formed with αβδγ subunits, αβγ p subunits, αβδ subunits, αδγ subunits or αδ subunits, but not with only one subunit (see e.g., Kurosaki et al. (1987) FEBS Lett. 214: 253-258; Camacho et al. (1993) J. Neuroscience 13:605-613). In contrast, functional neuronal nAChRs can be formed from a subunits alone or combinations of α and β subunits. The larger a subunit is generally believed to be a ACh-binding subunit and the lower molecular weight β subunit is generally believed to be the structural subunit, although it has not been definitively demonstrated that the β subunit does not have the ability to bind ACh or participate in the formation of the ACh binding site. Each of the subunits which participate in the formation of a functional ion channel are, to the extent they contribute to the structure of the resulting channel, “structural” subunits, regardless of their ability (or inability) to bind ACh. Neuronal nAChRs, which are also ligand-gated ion channels, are expressed in ganglia of the autonomic nervous system and in the central nervous system (where they mediate signal transmission), in post-synaptic locations (where they modulate transmission), and in pre- and extra-synaptic locations (where they modulate neurotransmission and may have additional functions; Wonnacott et al., In: Progress in Brain Research (A. Nordberg et al., (Eds) Elsevier, Amsterdam) 157-163 (1990)).
  • DNA encoding nAChRs has been isolated from several sources. Based on the information available from such work, it has been evident for some time that nAChRs expressed in muscle, in autonomic ganglia, and in the central nervous system are functionally diverse. This functional diversity could be due, at least in part, to the large number of different nAChR subunits which exist. There is an incomplete understanding, however, of how (and which) nAChR subunits combine to generate unique nAChR subtypes, particularly in neuronal cells. Indeed, there is evidence that only certain nAChR subtypes may be involved in diseases such as Alzheimer's disease. Moreover, it is not clear whether nAChRs from analogous tissues or cell types are similar across species.
  • Accordingly, there is a need for the isolation and characterization of DNAs encoding each human neuronal nAChR subunit, recombinant cells containing such subunits and receptors prepared therefrom. In order to study the function of human neuronal nAChRs and to obtain disease-specific pharmacologically active agents, there is also a need to obtain isolated (preferably purified) human neuronal nAChRs, and isolated (preferably purified) human neuronal nAChR subunits. In addition, there is also a need to develop assays to identify such pharmacologically active agents.
  • The availability of such DNAs, cells, receptor subunits and receptor compositions will eliminate the uncertainty of speculating as to human neuronal nAChR structure and function based on predictions drawn from non-human nAChR data, or human or non-human muscle or ganglia nAChR data.
  • Therefore, it is an object herein to isolate and characterize DNA encoding subunits of human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. It is also an object herein to provide methods for recombinant production of human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunits. It is also an object herein to provide purified receptor subunits and to provide methods for screening compounds to identify compounds that modulate the activity of human neuronal nAChRs.
  • These and other objects will become apparent to those of skill in the art upon further study of the specification and claims.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
  • In accordance with the present invention, there are provided isolated DNAs encoding novel human alpha and beta subunits of neuronal nAChRs. In particular, isolated DNA encoding human α6 and β3 subunits of neuronal nAChRs are provided. Messenger RNA and polypeptides encoded by the above-described DNA are also provided.
  • Further in accordance with the present invention, there are provided recombinant human neuronal nicotinic nAChR subunits, including α6 and β3 subunits, as well as methods for the production thereof. In addition, recombinant human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors containing at least one human neuronal nicotinic nAChR subunit are also provided, as well as methods for the production thereof. Further provided are recombinant neuronal nicotinic nAChRs that contain a mixture of one or more nAChR subunits encoded by a host cell, and one or more nAChR subunits encoded by heterologous DNA or RNA (i.e., DNA or RNA as described herein that has been introduced into the host cell), as well as methods for the production thereof.
  • Plasmids containing DNA encoding the above-described subunits are also provided. Recombinant cells containing the above-described DNA, mRNA or plasmids are also provided herein. Such cells are useful, for example, for replicating DNA, for producing human nAChR subunits and recombinant receptors, and for producing cells that express receptors containing one or more human subunits.
  • The DNA, mRNA, vectors, receptor subunits, receptor subunit combinations and cells provided herein permit production of selected neuronal nicotinic nAChR receptor subtypes and specific combinations thereof, as well as antibodies to said receptor subunits. This provides a means to prepare synthetic or recombinant receptors and receptor subunits that are substantially free of contamination from many other receptor proteins whose presence can interfere with analysis of a single nAChR subtype. The availability of desired receptor subtypes makes it possible to observe the effect of a drug substance on a particular receptor subtype and to thereby perform initial in vitro screening of the drug substance in a test system that is specific for humans and specific for a human neuronal nicotinic nAChR subtype.
  • The ability to screen drug substances in vitro to determine the effect of the drug on specific receptor compositions should permit the development and screening of receptor subtype-specific or disease-specific drugs. Also, testing of single receptor subunits or specific receptor subtype combinations with a variety of potential agonists or antagonists provides additional information with respect to the function and activity of the individual subunits and should lead to the identification and design of compounds that are capable of very specific interaction with one or more of the receptor subunits or receptor subtypes. The resulting drugs should exhibit fewer unwanted side effects than drugs identified by screening with cells that express a variety of subtypes.
  • Further in relation to drug development and therapeutic treatment of various disease states, the availability of DNAs encoding human neuronal nAChR subunits enables identification of any alterations in such genes (e.g., mutations) which may correlate with the occurrence of certain disease states. In addition, the creation of animal models of such disease states becomes possible, by specifically introducing such mutations into synthetic DNA sequences which can then be introduced into laboratory animals or in vitro assay systems to determine the effects thereof.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE FIGURES
  • FIG. 1 presents a restriction map of a cytomegalovirus (CMV) promoter-based vector, pcDNA3-KEalpha6.3, which contains an α6-encoding sequence as an EcoRI insert.
  • FIG. 2 presents a restriction map of a CMV promoter-based vector, pcDNA3-KEbeta3.2, which contains a β3-encoding sequence as an EcoRI insert.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
  • In accordance with the present invention, we have isolated and characterized DNAs encoding novel human alpha and beta subunits of neuronal nAChRs. Specifically, isolated DNAs encoding human α6 and β3 subunits of neuronal nAChRs are described herein. Recombinant messenger RNA (mRNA) and recombinant polypeptides encoded by the above-described DNA are also provided.
  • As used herein, isolated (or substantially pure) as a modifier of DNA, RNA, polypeptides or proteins means that the DNA, RNA, polypeptides or proteins so designated have been separated from their in vivo cellular environments through the efforts of human beings. Thus as used herein, isolated (or substantially pure) DNA refers to DNAs purified according to standard techniques employed by those skilled in the art (see, e.g., Sambrook et al. (1989) Molecular Cloning: A Laboratory Manual, 2nd ed., Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.).
  • Similarly, as used herein, “recombinant” as a modifier of DNA, RNA, polypeptides or proteins means that the DNA, RNA, polypeptides or proteins so designated have been prepared by the efforts of human beings, e.g., by cloning, recombinant expression, and the like. Thus as used herein, recombinant proteins, for example, refers to proteins produced by a recombinant host, expressing DNAs which have been added to that host through the efforts of human beings.
  • As used herein, a human alpha subunit gene is a gene that encodes an alpha subunit of a human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor. The alpha subunit is a subunit of the nAChR to which ACh binds. Assignment of the name “alpha” to a putative nAChR subunit, according to Deneris et al. [Tips (1991) 12:34-40] is based on the conservation of adjacent cysteine residues in the presumed extracellular domain of the subunit that are the homologues of cysteines 192 and 193 of the Torpedo alpha subunit (see Noda et al. (1982) Nature 299:793-797). As used herein, an alpha subunit subtype refers to a human neuronal nAChR subunit that is encoded by DNA that hybridizes under high stringency conditions to at least one of the neuronal nAChR alpha subunit-encoding DNAs (or deposited clones) disclosed herein. An alpha subunit generally binds to ACh under physiological conditions and at physiological concentrations and, in the optional presence of a beta subunit (i.e., some alpha subunits are functional alone, while others require the presence of a beta subunit), generally forms a functional nAChR as assessed by methods described herein or known to those of skill in this art.
  • Also contemplated are alpha subunits encoded by DNAs that encode alpha subunits as defined above, but that by virtue of degeneracy of the genetic code do not necessarily hybridize to the disclosed DNA or deposited clones under specified hybridization conditions. Such subunits also form a functional receptor, as assessed by the methods described herein or known to those of skill in the art, generally with one or more beta, subunit subtypes. Typically, unless an alpha subunit is encoded by RNA that arises from alternative splicing (i.e., a splice variant), alpha-encoding DNA and the alpha subunit encoded thereby share substantial sequence homology with at least one of the alpha subunit DNAs (and proteins encoded thereby) described or deposited herein. It is understood that DNA or RNA encoding a splice variant may overall share less than 90% homology with the DNA or RNA provided herein, but include regions of nearly 100% homology to a DNA fragment or deposited clone described herein, and encode an open reading frame that includes start and stop codons and encodes a functional alpha subunit.
  • As used herein, a splice variant refers to variant nAChR subunit-encoding nucleic acid(s) produced by differential processing of primary transcript(s) of genomic DNA, resulting in the production of more than one type of mRNA. cDNA derived from differentially processed genomic DNA will encode nAChR subunits that have regions of complete amino acid identity and regions having different amino acid sequences. Thus, the same genomic sequence can lead to the production of multiple, related mRNAs and proteins. Both the resulting mRNAs and proteins are referred to herein as “splice variants”.
  • Stringency of hybridization is used herein to refer to conditions under which polynucleic acid hybrids are stable. As known to those of skill in the art, the stability of hybrids is reflected in the melting temperature (Tm) of the hybrids. Tm can be approximated by the formula:
    81.5° C.−16.6(log10(Na+])+0.41(% G+C)−600/1,
    where 1 is the length of the hybrids in nucleotides. Tm decreases approximately 1-1.5° C. with every it decrease in sequence homology. In general, the stability of a hybrid is a function of sodium ion concentration and temperature.
  • Typically, the hybridization reaction is performed under conditions of lower stringency, followed by washes of varying, but higher, stringency. Reference to hybridization stringency relates to such washing conditions. Thus, as used herein:
      • (1) HIGH STRINGENCY conditions, with respect to fragment hybridization, refer to conditions that permit hybridization of only those nucleic acid sequences that form stable hybrids in 0.018M NaCl at 65° C. (i.e., if a hybrid is not stable in 0.018M NaCl at 65° C., it will not be stable under high stringency conditions, as contemplated herein). High stringency conditions can be provided, for example, by hybridization in 50% formamide, 5× Denhardt's solution, 5×SSPE, 0.2% SDS, 200 μg/ml denatured sonicated herring sperm DNA, at 42° C., followed by washing in 0.1×SSPE, and 0.1% SDS at 65° C.;
      • (2) MODERATE STRINGENCY conditions, with respect to fragment hybridization, refer to conditions equivalent to hybridization in 50% formamide, 5× Denhardt's solution, 5×SSPE, 0.2% SDS, 200 μpg/ml denatured sonicated herring sperm DNA, at 42° C., followed by washing in 0.2×SSPE, 0.2% SDS, at 60° C.;
      • (3) LOW STRINGENCY conditions, with respect to fragment hybridization, refer to conditions equivalent to hybridization in 10% formamide, 5× Denhardt's solution, 6×SSPE, 0.2% SDS, 200 μg/ml denatured sonicated herring sperm DNA, followed by washing in 1×SSPE, 0.2% SDS, at 50° C.; and
      • (4) HIGH STRINGENCY conditions, with respect to oligonucleotide (i.e., synthetic DNA s about 30 nucleotides in length) hybridization, refer to conditions equivalent to hybridization in 10% formamide, 5× Denhardt's solution, 6×SSPE, 0.2% SDS, 200 μg/ml denatured sonicated herring sperm DNA, at 42° C., followed by washing in 1×SSPE, and 0.2% SDS at 50° C.
        It is understood that these conditions may be duplicated using a variety of buffers and temperatures and that they are not necessarily precise.
  • Denhardt's solution and SSPE (see, e.g., Sambrook et al., supra) are well known to those of skill in the art as are other suitable hybridization buffers. For example, SSPE is pH 7.4 phosphate-buffered 0.18M NaCl. SSPE can be prepared, for example, as a 20× stock solution by dissolving 175.3 g of NaCl, 27.6 g of NaH2PO4 and 7.4 g EDTA in 800 ml of water, adjusting the pH to 7.4, and then adding water to 1 liter. Denhardt's solution (see, Denhardt (1966) Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun. 23:641) can be prepared, for example, as a 50× stock solution by mixing 5 g Ficoll (Type 400, Pharmacia LKB Biotechnology, INC., Piscataway N.J.), 5 g of polyvinylpyrrolidone, 5 g bovine serum albumin (Fraction V; Sigma, St. Louis Mo.) water to 500 ml and filtering to remove particulate matter.
  • As used herein, the phrase “substantial sequence homology” refers to nucleotide sequences which share at least about 90% identity, and amino acid sequences which typically share more than 95% amino acid identity. It is recognized, however, that proteins (and DNA or mRNA encoding such proteins) containing less than the above-described level of homology arising as splice variants or that are modified by conservative amino acid substitutions (or substitution of degenerate codons) are contemplated to be within the scope of the present invention.
  • The phrase “substantially the same” is used herein in reference to the nucleotide sequence of DNA, the ribonucleotide sequence of RNA, or the amino acid sequence of protein, that have slight and non-consequential sequence variations from the actual sequences disclosed herein. Species that are substantially the same are considered to be equivalent to the disclosed sequences and as such are within the scope of the appended claims. In this regard, “slight and non-consequential sequence variations” mean that sequences that are substantially the same as the DNA, RNA, or proteins disclosed and claimed herein are functionally equivalent to the human-derived sequences disclosed and claimed herein. Functionally equivalent sequences will function in substantially the same manner to produce substantially the same compositions as the human-derived nucleic acid and amino acid compositions disclosed and claimed herein. In particular, functionally equivalent DNAs encode human-derived proteins that are the same as those disclosed herein or that have conservative amino acid variations, such as substitution of a non-polar residue for another non-polar residue or a charged residue for a similarly charged residue. These changes include those recognized by those of skill in the art as those that do not substantially alter the tertiary structure of the protein.
  • As used herein, “α6 subunit DNA” refers to DNA encoding a neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunit of the same name. Such DNA can be characterized in a number of ways, for example
  • said DNA may encode the amino acid sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO:2, or
  • said DNA may encode the amino acid sequence encoded by clone pcDNA3-KEalpha6.3 (as illustrated in FIG. 1).
  • Presently preferred α6-encoding DNAs can be characterized as follows
  • said DNA may hybridize to the coding sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO:1 (preferably to substantially the entire coding sequence thereof, i.e., nucleotides 143-1624) under high stringency conditions, or
  • said DNA may hybridize under high stringency conditions to the sequence (preferably to substantially the entire sequence) of the α6-encoding insert of clone pcDNA3-KEalpha6.3 (as illustrated in FIG. 1).
  • Especially preferred α6-encoding DNAs of the invention are characterized as follows
  • DNA having substantially the same nucleotide sequence as the α6 coding region set forth in SEQ ID NO:1 (i.e., nucleotides 143-1624 thereof), or
  • DNA having substantially the same nucleotide sequence as the α6-encoding insert of clone pcDNA3-KEalpha6.3 (as illustrated in FIG. 1).
  • Typically, unless an α6 subunit arises as a splice variant, α6-encoding DNA will share substantial sequence homology (i.e., greater than about 90%), with the α6 DNAs described herein. DNA or RNA encoding a splice variant may share less than 90% overall sequence homology with the DNA or RNA provided herein, but such a splice variant would include regions of nearly 100% homology to the above-described DNAs.
  • As used herein, a human beta subunit gene is a gene that encodes a beta subunit of a human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor. Assignment of the name. “beta” to a putative neuronal nAChR subunit, according to Deneris et al. supra, is based on the lack of adjacent cysteine residues (which are characteristic of alpha subunits). The beta subunit is frequently referred to as the structural nAChR subunit (although it is possible that beta subunits also have ACh binding properties). Combination of the appropriate beta subunit(s) with appropriate alpha subunit(s) leads to the formation of a functional receptor. As used herein, a beta subunit subtype refers to a neuronal nAChR subunit that is encoded by DNA that hybridizes under high stringency conditions to at least one of the neuronal nAChR-encoding DNAs (or deposited clones) disclosed herein. A beta subunit may form a functional nAChR, as assessed by methods described herein or known to those of skill in this art, with appropriate alpha subunit subtype(s).
  • Also contemplated are beta subunits encoded by DNAs that encode beta subunits as defined above, but that by virtue of degeneracy of the genetic code do not necessarily hybridize to the disclosed DNA or deposited clones under the specified hybridization conditions. Such subunits may also form functional receptors, as assessed by the methods described herein or known to those of skill in the art, in combination with appropriate alpha subunit subtype(s). Typically, unless a beta subunit is encoded by RNA that arises as a splice variant, beta-encoding DNA and the beta subunit encoded thereby share substantial sequence homology with the beta-encoding DNA and beta subunit protein described herein. It is understood that DNA or RNA encoding a splice variant may share less than 90% overall homology with the DNA or RNA provided herein, but such DNA will include regions of nearly 100% homology to the DNA described herein.
  • As used herein, “β3 subunit DNA” refers to DNA encoding a neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunit of the same name. Such DNA can be characterized in a number of ways, for example, the nucleotides of said DNA may encode the amino acid sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO:4. Presently preferred β3-encoding DNAs can be characterized as DNA which hybridizes under high stringency conditions to the coding sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO:3 (preferably to substantially the entire coding sequence thereof, i.e., nucleotides 98-1472). Especially preferred β3-encoding DNAs of the invention are characterized as having substantially the same nucleotide sequence as set forth in SEQ ID NO:3.
  • Typically, unless a β3 subunit arises as a splice variant, β3-encoding DNA will share substantial sequence homology (greater than about 90%) with the β3 DNAs described herein. DNA or RNA encoding a splice variant may share less than 90% overall sequence homology with the DNA or RNA provided herein, but such DNA would include regions of nearly 100% homology to the above-described DNA.
  • DNA encoding human neuronal nicotinic nAChR alpha and beta subunits may be isolated by screening suitable human cDNA or human genomic libraries under suitable hybridization conditions with DNA disclosed herein (including nucleotides derived from SEQ ID NOs:1 or 3). Suitable libraries can be prepared from neuronal tissue samples, basal ganglia, thalamus, hypothalamus, and the like. The library is preferably screened with a portion of DNA including the entire subunit-encoding sequence thereof, or the library may be screened with a suitable probe.
  • As used herein with reference to human α6 subunits, a probe is single-stranded DNA or RNA that has a sequence of nucleotides that includes at least 27 contiguous bases that are the same as (or the complement of) any 27 bases set forth in SEQ ID NO:1. As used herein with reference to human 3 subunits, a probe is single-stranded DNA or RNA that has a sequence of nucleotides that includes at least 28 contiguous bases that are the same as (or the complement of) any 28 bases derived from the first 105 nucleotides of signal sequence/coding sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO:3. Preferred regions from which to construct probes include 5′ and/or 3′ coding sequences, sequences predicted to encode transmembrane domains, sequences predicted to encode the cytoplasmic loop, signal sequences, acetylcholine (ACh) and α-bungarotoxin (α-bgtx) binding sites, and the like. Amino acids that correspond to residues 190-198 of the Torpedo nAChR a subunit (see Karlin (1993) Curr. Opin. Neurobiol. 3, 299-309) are typically involved in ACh and α-bgtx binding. The approximate amino acid residues which comprise such regions for other preferred probes are set forth in the following table:
    Subunit Signal Sequence TMD1* TMD2 TMD3 TMD4 Cytoplasmic Loop
    α6 1-30 240-265 272-294 301-326 458-483 327-457
    β3 1-20 231-258 265-287 293-318 421-446 319-420

    *TMD = transmembrane domain

    Alternatively, portions of the DNA can be used as primers to amplify selected fragments in a particular library.
  • After screening the library, positive clones are identified by detecting a hybridization signal; the identified clones are characterized by restriction enzyme mapping and/or DNA sequence analysis, and then examined, by comparison with the sequences set forth herein or with the deposited clones described herein, to ascertain whether they include DNA encoding a complete alpha or beta subunit. If the selected clones are incomplete, they may be used to rescreen the same or a different library to obtain overlapping clones. If desired, the library can be rescreened with positive clones until overlapping clones that encode an entire alpha or beta subunit are obtained. If the library is a cDNA library, then the overlapping clones will include an open reading frame. If the library is genomic, then the overlapping clones may include exons and introns. In both instances, complete clones may be identified by comparison with the DNA and encoded proteins provided herein.
  • Complementary DNA clones encoding various subtypes of human neuronal nAChR alpha and beta subunits have been isolated. Each subtype of the subunit appears to be encoded by a different gene. The DNA clones provided herein may be used to isolate genomic clones encoding each subtype and to isolate any splice variants by screening libraries prepared from different neural tissues. Nucleic acid amplification techniques, which are well known in the art, can be used to locate splice variants of human neuronal nAChR subunits. This is accomplished by employing oligonucleotides based on DNA sequences surrounding divergent sequence(s) as primers for amplifying human RNA or genomic DNA. Size and sequence determinations of the amplification products can reveal the existence of splice variants. Furthermore, isolation of human genomic DNA sequences by hybridization can yield DNA containing multiple exons, separated by introns, that correspond to different splice variants of transcripts encoding human neuronal nAChR subunits.
  • It has been found that not all subunit subtypes are expressed in all neural tissues or in all portions of the brain. Thus, in order to isolate cDNA encoding particular subunit subtypes or splice variants of such subtypes, it is preferable to screen libraries prepared from different neuronal or neural tissues. Preferred libraries for obtaining DNA encoding each subunit include: substantia nigra, thalamus or hypothalamus to isolate human α6-encoding DNA and substantia nigra or thalamus to isolate human β3-encoding DNA.
  • The above-described nucleotide sequences can be incorporated into vectors for further manipulation. As used herein, vector (or plasmid) refers to discrete elements that are used to introduce heterologous DNA into cells for either expression or replication thereof. Selection and use of such vehicles are well within the level of skill of the art.
  • An expression vector includes vectors capable of expressing DNAs that are operatively linked with regulatory sequences, such as promoter regions, that are capable of effecting expression of such DNA fragments. Thus, an expression vector refers to a recombinant DNA or RNA construct, such as a plasmid, a phage, recombinant virus or other vector that, upon introduction into an appropriate host cell, allows expression of DNA cloned into the appropriate site on the vector. Appropriate expression vectors are well known to those of skill in the art and include those that are replicable in eukaryotic cells and/or prokaryotic cells and those that remain episomal or those which integrate into the host cell genome. Presently preferred plasmids for expression of invention nAChR subunits in eukaryotic host cells, particularly mammalian cells, include cytomegalovirus (CMV), Simian virus 40 (SV40) and mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV) promoter-containing vectors such as PCMV, pcDNA1, pcDNA3, pZeoSV, pCEP4, pMAMneo, pMAMhyg, and the like.
  • As used herein, a promoter region refers to a segment of DNA that controls transcription of DNA to which it is operatively linked. The promoter region includes specific sequences that are sufficient for RNA polymerase recognition, binding and transcription initiation. This portion of the promoter region is referred to as the promoter. In addition, the promoter region includes sequences that modulate this recognition, binding and transcription initiation activity of RNA polymerase. These sequences may be cis acting or may be responsive to trans acting factors. Promoters, depending upon the nature of the regulation, may be constitutive or regulated. Exemplary promoters contemplated for use in the practice of the present invention include the SV40 early promoter, the cytomegalovirus (CMV) promoter, the mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV) steroid-inducible promoter, Moloney murine leukemia virus (MMLV) promoter, and the like.
  • As used herein, the term “operatively linked” refers to the functional relationship of DNA with regulatory and effector sequences of nucleotides, such as promoters, enhancers, transcriptional and translational stop sites, and other signal sequences. For example, operative linkage of DNA to a promoter refers to the physical and functional relationship between the DNA and the promoter such that the transcription of such DNA is initiated from the promoter by an RNA polymerase that specifically recognizes, binds to and transcribes the DNA. In order to optimize expression and/or in vitro transcription, it may be necessary to remove or alter 5′ untranslated portions of the clones to remove extra, potential alternative translation initiation (i.e., start) codons or other sequences that interfere with or reduce expression, either at the level of transcription or translation. Alternatively, consensus ribosome binding sites (see, for example, Kozak (1991) J. Biol. Chem. 266:19867-19870) can be inserted immediately 5′ of the start codon to enhance expression. The desirability of (or need for) such modification may be empirically determined.
  • As used herein, expression refers to the process by which polynucleic acids are transcribed into mRNA and translated into peptides, polypeptides, or proteins. If the polynucleic acid is derived from genomic DNA, expression may, if an appropriate eukaryotic host cell or organism is selected, include splicing of the mRNA.
  • Particularly preferred vectors for transfection of mammalian cells are the SV40 promoter-based expression vectors, such as pZeoSV (Invitrogen, San Diego, Calif.) CMV promoter-based vectors such as pcDNA1, pcDNA3, pCEP4 (Invitrogen, San Diego, Calif.), and MMTV promoter-based vectors such as pMAMneo (Clontech, Inc.).
  • Full-length DNAs encoding human neuronal nAChR subunits have been inserted into vector pcDNA3, a pUC19-based mammalian cell expression vector containing the CMV promoter/enhancer, a polylinker downstream of the CMV promoter/enhancer, followed by a- bovine growth hormone (BGH) polyadenylation signal. Placement of nAChR subunit DNA between the CMV promoter and BGH polyadenylation signal provides for constitutive expression of the foreign DNA in a mammalian host cell transfected with the construct. For inducible expression of human nAChR subunit-encoding DNA in a mammalian cell, the DNA can be inserted into a plasmid such as pMAMneo. This plasmid contains the mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV) promoter for steroid-inducible expression of operatively associated foreign DNA. If the host cell does not express endogenous glucocorticoid receptors required for uptake of glucorcorticoids (i.e., inducers of the MMTV promoter) into the cell, it is necessary to additionally transfect the cell with DNA encoding the glucocorticoid receptor (ATCC accession no. 67200).
  • In accordance with another embodiment of the present invention, there are provided cells containing the above-described polynucleic acids (i.e., DNA or mRNA). Such host cells as bacterial, yeast and mammalian cells can be used for replicating DNA and producing nAChR subunit (s). Methods for constructing expression vectors, preparing in vitro transcripts, transfecting DNA into mammalian cells, injecting oocytes, and performing electrophysiological and other analyses for assessing receptor expression and function as described herein are also described in PCT Application Nos. PCT/US91/02311, PCT/US91/05625 and PCT/US92/11090, and in co-pending U.S. application Ser. Nos. 07/504,455, 07/563,751 and 07/812,254. The subject matter of these applications are hereby incorporated by reference herein in their entirety.
  • Incorporation of cloned DNA into a suitable expression vector, transfection of eukaryotic cells with one or a combination of expression constructs encoding one or more distinct genes or with linear DNA, and selection of transfected cells are well known in the art (see, e.g., Sambrook et al. (1989) supra). Heterologous DNA may be introduced into host cells by any method known to those of skill in the art, such as transfection with an expression construct encoding the heterologous DNA by CaPO4 precipitation (see, e.g., Wigler et al. (1979) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 76:1373-1376). Recombinant cells can then be cultured under conditions whereby the subunit(s) encoded by the DNA is (are) expressed. Preferred cells include mammalian cells (e.g., HEK 293, CHO and Ltk cells), yeast cells (e.g., methylotrophic yeast cells, such as Pichia pastoris), bacterial cells (e.g., Escherichia coli), and the like.
  • While the DNA provided herein may be expressed in any eukaryotic cell, including yeast cells (such as, for example, P. pastoris (see U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,882,279, 4,837,148, 4,929,555 and 4,855,231), Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Candida tropicalis, Hansenula polymorpha, and the like), mammalian expression systems, including commercially available systems and other such systems known to those of skill in the art, for expression of DNA encoding the human neuronal nicotinic nAChR subunits provided herein are presently preferred. Xenopus oocytes are preferred for expression of RNA transcripts of the DNA.
  • In preferred embodiments, DNA is ligated into a vector, and the resulting construct is introduced into suitable host cells to produce transformed cell lines that express a specific human neuronal nAChR receptor subtype, or specific combinations of subtypes. The resulting cell lines can then be produced in quantity for reproducible quantitative analysis of the effects of drugs on receptor function. In other embodiments, mRNA may be produced by in vitro transcription of DNA encoding each subunit. This mRNA, either from a single subunit clone or from a combination of clones, can then be injected into Xenopus oocytes where the mRNA directs the synthesis of the human receptor subunits, which then form functional receptors. Alternatively, the subunit-encoding DNA can be directly injected into oocytes for expression of functional receptors. The transfected mammalian cells or injected oocytes may then be used in the methods of drug screening provided herein.
  • Cloned full-length DNA encoding any of the subunits of human neuronal nicotinic nAChR may, be introduced into a plasmid vector for expression in a eukaryotic cell. Such DNA may be genomic DNA or CDNA. Host cells may be transfected with one or a combination of plasmids, each of which encodes at least one human neuronal nAChR subunit.
  • Eukaryotic cells in which DNA or RNA may be introduced include any cells that are transfectable by such DNA or RNA or into which such DNA or RNA may be injected. Preferred cells are those that can be transiently or stably transfected and also express the DNA and RNA. Presently most preferred cells are those that can form recombinant or heterologous human neuronal nicotinic nAChRs comprising one or more subunits encoded by the heterologous DNA. Such cells may be identified empirically or selected from among those known to be readily transfected or injected.
  • Exemplary cells for introducing DNA include cells of mammalian origin (e.g., COS cells, mouse L cells, Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells, human embryonic kidney (HEK) cells, GH3 cells and other such cells known to those of skill in the art), amphibian cells (e.g., Xenopus laevis oöcytes), yeast cells (e.g., Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Pichia pastoris), and the like. Exemplary cells for expressing injected RNA transcripts include Xenopus laevis oöcytes. Cells that are preferred for transfection of DNA are known to those of skill in the art or may be empirically identified, and include HEK 293 (which are available from ATCC under accession #CRL 1573); Ltk cells (which are available from ATCC under accession #CCL1.3); COS-7 cells (which are available from ATCC under accession #CRL 1651); and GH3 cells (which are available from ATCC under accession #CCL82.1). Presently preferred cells include GH3 cells and HEK 293 cells, particularly HEK 293 cells that have been adapted for growth in suspension and that can be frozen in liquid nitrogen and then thawed and regrown. HEK 293 cells are described, for example, in U.S. Pat. No. 5,024,939 to Gorman (see, also, Stillman et al. (1985) Mol. Cell. Biol. 5:2051-2060).
  • DNA may be stably incorporated into cells or may be transiently introduced using methods known in the art. Stably transfected mammalian cells may be prepared by transfecting cells either with one or more expression constructs carrying DNA encoding nAChR subunits and a separate expression vector carrying a selectable marker gene (e.g., the gene for neomycin resistance, zeocin resistance, hygromycin resistance and the like) or with one or more expression constructs which carry both the DNA encoding nAChR subunit and the selectable marker, and growing the transfected cells under conditions selective for cells expressing the marker gene(s). To produce such cells, the. cells should be transfected with a sufficient concentration of subunit-encoding nucleic acids to form human neuronal nAChRs that contain the human subunits encoded by heterologous DNA. The precise amounts and ratios of DNA encoding the subunits may be empirically determined and optimized for a particular combination of subunits, cells and assay conditions. Recombinant cells that express neuronal nAChR containing subunits encoded only by the heterologous DNA or RNA are especially preferred.
  • Heterologous DNA may be maintained in the cell as an episomal element or may be integrated into chromosomal DNA of the cell. The resulting recombinant cells may then be cultured or subcultured (or passaged, in the case of mammalian cells) from such a culture or a subculture thereof. Methods for transfection, injection and culturing recombinant cells are known to the skilled artisan. Similarly, the human neuronal nicotinic nAChR subunits may be purified using protein purification methods known to those of skill in the art. For example, antibodies or other ligands that specifically bind to one or more of the subunits may be used for affinity purification of the subunit or human neuronal nAChRs containing the subunits.
  • In accordance with one embodiment of the present invention, methods for producing cells that express human neuronal nAChR subunits and functional receptors are also provided. In one such method, host cells are transfected with DNA encoding at least one alpha subunit of a neuronal nAChR and at least one beta subunit of a neuronal nAChR. Using methods such as northern blot or slot blot analysis, transfected cells that contain alpha and/or beta subunit encoding DNA or RNA can be selected. Transfected cells are also analyzed to identify those that express nAChR protein. Analysis can be carried out, for example, by measuring the ability of cells to bind acetylcholine, nicotine, or a nAChR agonist, compared to the nicotine binding ability of untransfected host cells or other suitable control cells, by electrophysiologically monitoring the currents through the cell membrane in response to a nAChR agonist, and the like.
  • In particularly preferred aspects, eukaryotic cells which contain heterologous DNAs express such DNA and form recombinant functional neuronal nAChR(s). In more preferred aspects, recombinant neuronal nAChR activity is readily detectable because it is a type that is absent from the untransfected host cell or is of a magnitude not exhibited in the untransfected cell. Such cells that contain recombinant receptors could be prepared, for example, by causing cells transformed with DNA encoding the human neuronal nicotinic nAChR α6 and β3 subunits to express the corresponding proteins in the presence or absence of one or more alpha and/or beta nAChR subunits. The resulting synthetic or recombinant receptor would contain the α6 and β3 nAChR subunits. Such a receptor would be useful for a variety of applications, e.g., as part of an assay system free of the interferences frequently present in prior art assay systems employing non-human receptors or human tissue preparations. Furthermore, testing of single receptor subunits with a variety of potential agonists or antagonists would provide additional information with respect to the function and activity of the individual subunits. Such information may lead to the identification of compounds which are capable of very specific interaction with one or more of the receptor subunits. Such specificity may prove of great value in medical application.
  • Thus, DNA encoding one or more human neuronal nAChR subunits may be introduced into suitable host cells (e.g., eukaryotic or prokaryotic cells) for expression of individual subunits and functional nAChRs. Preferably combinations of alpha and beta subunits may be introduced into cells: such combinations include combinations of any one or more of α2, α3, α4, α5, α6 and α7 with β2, β3 and/or β4. Sequence information for α5 is presented in Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci.USA (1992) 89:1572-1576; sequence information for α2, α3, α4, α7, β2 and β4 is presented in PCT publication WO 94/20617, incorporated by reference herein; and sequence information for α6 and β3 is presented in the Sequence Listing provided herewith. Presently preferred combinations of subunits include α6 and/or β3 with any one or more of ═2, α3, α4, α5, α7, β2 or β4. It is recognized that some of the subunits may have ion transport function in the absence of additional subunits, while others require a combination of two or more subunits in order to display ion transport function. For example, the α7 subunit is functional in the absence of any added beta subunit. Furthermore, some of the subunits may not form functional nAChRs alone or in combination, but instead may modulate the properties of other nAChR subunit combinations.
  • In certain embodiments, eukaryotic cells with heterologous human neuronal nAChRs are produced by introducing into the cell a first composition, which contains at least one RNA transcript that is translated in the cell into a subunit of a human neuronal nAChR. In preferred embodiments, the subunits that are translated include an alpha subunit of a human neuronal nAChR. More preferably, the composition that is introduced contains an RNA transcript which encodes an alpha subunit and also contains an RNA transcript which encodes a beta subunit of a human neuronal nAChR. RNA transcripts can be obtained from cells transfected with DNAs encoding human neuronal nAChR subunits or by in vitro transcription of subunit-encoding DNAs. Methods for in vitro transcription of cloned DNA and injection of the resulting mRNA into eukaryotic cells are well known in the art. Amphibian oocytes are particularly preferred for expression of in vitro transcripts of the human neuronal nAChR DNA clones provided herein. See, for example, Dascal (1989) CRC Crit. Rev. Biochem. 22:317-387, for a review of the use of Xenopus oocytes to study ion channels.
  • Thus, stepwise introduction into cells of DNA or RNA encoding one or more alpha subtypes, and one or more beta subtypes is possible. The resulting cells may be tested by the methods provided herein or known to those of skill in the art to detect functional nAChR activity. Such testing will allow the identification of combinations of alpha and beta subunit subtypes that produce functional nAChRs, as well as individual subunits that produce functional nAChRs.
  • As used herein, activity of a human neuronal nAChR refers to any activity characteristic of an nAChR. Such activity can typically be measured by one or more in vitro methods, and frequently corresponds to an in vivo activity of a human neuronal nAChR. Such activity may be measured by any method known to those of skill in the art, such as, for example, measuring the amount of current which flows through the recombinant channel in response to a stimulus.
  • Methods to determine the presence and/or activity of human neuronal nAChRs include assays that measure nicotine binding, 86Rb ion-flux, Ca2+ influx, the electrophysiological response of cells, the electrophysiological response of oocytes injected with RNA, and the like. In particular, methods are provided herein for the measurement or detection of an nAChR-mediated response upon contact of cells containing the DNA or mRNA with a test compound.
  • As used herein, a recombinant or heterologous human neuronal nAChR refers to a receptor that contains one or more subunits encoded by heterologous DNA that has been introduced into and expressed in cells capable of expressing receptor protein. A recombinant human neuronal nAChR may also include subunits that are produced by DNA endogenous to the host cell. In certain embodiments, recombinant or heterologous human neuronal nAChR may contain only subunits that are encoded by heterologous DNA.
  • As used herein, heterologous or foreign DNA and RNA are used interchangeably and refer to DNA or RNA that does not occur naturally as part of the genome of the cell in which it is present or to DNA or RNA which is found in a location or locations in the genone that differ from that in which it occurs in nature. Typically, heterologous or foreign DNA and RNA refers to DNA or RNA that is not endogenous to the host cell and has been artificially introduced into the cell. Examples of heterologous DNA include DNA that encodes a human neuronal nAChR subunit, DNA that encodes RNA or proteins that mediate or alter expression of endogenous DNA by affecting transcription, translation, or other regulatable biochemical processes, and the like. The cell that expresses heterologous DNA may contain DNA encoding the same or different expression products. Heterologous DNA need not be expressed and may be integrated into the host cell genome or maintained episomally.
  • Recombinant receptors on recombinant eukaryotic cell surfaces may contain one or more subunits encoded by the DNA or mRNA encoding human neuronal nAChR subunits, or may contain a mixture of subunits encoded by the host cell and subunits encoded by heterologous DNA or mRNA. Recombinant receptors may be homogeneous or may be a mixture of subtypes. Mixtures of DNA or mRNA encoding receptors from various species, such as rats and humans, may also be introduced into the cells. Thus, a cell may be prepared that expresses recombinant receptors containing only α6 and β3 subunits, or in combination with any other alpha and beta subunits provided herein. For example, either or both of the α6 and β3 subunits of the present invention can be co-expressed with α2, α3, α4, α5, α7, β2 and/or β4 receptor subunits. As noted previously, some of the neuronal nAChR subunits may be capable of forming functional receptors in the absence of other subunits, thus co-expression is not always required to produce functional receptors. Moreover, some nAChR subunits may require co-expression with two or more nAChR subunits to participate in functional receptors.
  • As used herein, a functional neuronal nAChR is a receptor that exhibits an activity of neuronal nicotinic nAChRs as assessed by any in vitro or in vivo assay disclosed herein or known to those of skill in the art. Possession of any such activity that may be assessed by any method known to those of skill in the art and provided herein is sufficient to designate a receptor as functional. Methods for detecting nAChR protein and/or activity include, for example, assays that measure nicotine binding, 86Rb ion-flux, Ca2+ influx, the electrophysiological response of cells containing heterologous DNA or mRNA encoding one or more receptor subunit subtypes, and the like. Since all combinations of alpha and beta subunits may not form functional receptors, numerous combinations of alpha and beta subunits should be tested in order to fully characterize a particular subunit and cells which produce same. Thus, as used herein, “functional” with respect to a recombinant or heterologous human neuronal nAChR means that the receptor channel is able to provide for and regulate entry of human neuronal nAChR-permeable ions, such as, for example, Na+, K+, Ca2+ or Ba2+, in response to a stimulus and/or bind ligands with affinity for the receptor. Preferably such human neuronal nAChR activity is distinguishable, such as by electrophysiological, pharmacological and other means known to those of skill in the art, from any endogenous nAChR activity that may be produced by the host cell.
  • In accordance with a particular embodiment of the present invention, recombinant human neuronal nAChR-expressing mammalian cells or oocytes can be contacted with a test compound, and the modulating effect(s) thereof can then be evaluated by comparing the nAChR-mediated response in the presence and absence of test compound, or by comparing the nAChR-mediated response of test cells, or control cells (i.e., cells that do not express neuronal nAChRs), to the presence of the compound.
  • As used herein, a compound or signal that “modulates the activity of a neuronal nAChR” refers to a compound or signal that alters the activity of nAChR so that activity of the nAChR is different in the presence of the compound or signal than in the absence of the compound or signal. In particular, such compounds or signals include agonists and antagonists. The term agonist refers to a substance or signal, such as ACh, that activates receptor function; and the term antagonist refers to a substance that interferes with receptor function. Typically, the effect of an antagonist is observed as a blocking of activation by an agonist. Antagonists include competitive and non-competitive antagonists. A competitive antagonist (or competitive blocker) interacts with or near the site specific for the agonist (e.g., ligand or neurotransmitter) for the same or closely situated site. A non-competitive antagonist or blocker inactivates the functioning of the receptor by interacting with a site other than the site that interacts with the agonist.
  • As understood by those of skill in the art, assay methods for identifying compounds that modulate human neuronal nAChR activity (e.g., agonists and antagonists) generally require comparison to a control. One type of a “control” cell or “control” culture is a cell or culture that is treated substantially the same as the cell or culture exposed to the test compound, except the control culture is not exposed to test compound. For example, in methods that use voltage clamp electrophysiological procedures, the same cell can be tested in the presence and absence of test compound, by merely changing the external solution bathing the cell. Another type of “control” cell or “control” culture may be a cell or a culture of cells which are identical to the transfected cells, except the cells employed for the control culture do not express functional human neuronal nAChRs. In this situation, the response of test cell to test compound is compared to the response (or lack of response) of receptor-negative (control) cell to test compound, when cells or cultures of each type of cell are exposed to substantially the same reaction conditions in the presence of compound being assayed.
  • Functional recombinant human neuronal nAChRs include at least an alpha subunit, or at least an alpha subunit and a beta subunit of a human neuronal nAChR. Eukaryotic cells expressing these subunits have been prepared by injection of RNA transcripts and by transfection of DNA. Such cells have exhibited nAChR activity attributable to human neuronal nAChRs that contain one or more of the heterologous human neuronal nAChR subunits.
  • With respect to measurement of the activity of functional heterologous human neuronal nAChRs, endogenous nAChR activity and, if desired, activity of nAChRs that contain a mixture of endogenous host cell subunits and heterologous subunits, should, if possible, be inhibited to a significant extent by chemical, pharmacological and electrophysiological means.
  • The invention will now be described in greater detail with reference to the following non-limiting examples.
  • EXAMPLE 1 Isolation of DNA Encoding Human nAChR a6 Subunits
  • A human substantia nigra cDNA library (Clontech Laboratories, Inc.) was screened for hybridization to a fragment of the rat nAChR α6 subunit cDNA. Isolated plaques were transferred to nitrocellulose filters and hybridization was performed in 5× Denhardt's, 5×SSPE, 50% formamide, 200 μg/ml denatured salmon sperm DNA and 0.2% SDS, at 42° C. Washes were performed in 0.2×SSPE, 0.2% SDS, at 60° C.
  • Five hybridizing clones were plaque-purified and characterized by restriction endonuclease mapping and DNA sequence analysis. The DNA sequence of the 5′- and 3′-ends of the cDNA inserts was determined using commercially available αgt10 forward and reverse oligonucleotide primers. Analysis of the DNA sequence of the five CDNA inserts revealed that three clones contained the translational initiation codon, a full-length α6 open reading frame (nucleotides 143-1624 of SEQ ID NO:1), the translational stop codon and 142 additional nucleotides of 5′- and 116 nucleotides of 3′-flanking sequences. The amino acid sequence deduced from the nucleotide sequence of the full-length clone has ˜82% identity with the amino acid sequence deduced from the rat nAChR α6 subunit DNA. Several regions of the deduced rat and human α6 amino acid sequences are notably dissimilar:
      • amino acids 1-30 (the human signal sequence has only ˜56% identity with respect to the rat sequence),
      • amino acids 31-50 (the human sequence has only ˜70% identity with respect to the rat sequence),
      • amino acids 344-391 (the human sequence has only ˜40% identity with respect to the rat sequence),
      • amino acids 401-428 (the human sequence has only ˜64% identity with respect to the rat sequence).
  • Furthermore, the insert DNA of a single clone, KEα6.5, was determined to be missing 45 nucleotides of α6 coding sequence, resulting in an in-frame deletion of 15 amino acid residues of the deduced amino acid sequence (residues 74 to 88 of SEQ ID NO:2). Interestingly, the deduced amino acid sequence immediately downstream of the site of the deletion shares only ˜58% amino acid identity with the deduced rat α6 amino acid sequence (amino acids 89-100 of SEQ ID NO:2).
  • EXAMPLE 2 Isolation of DNA Encoding Human Neuronal nAChR β6 Subunit
  • A human substantia nigra CDNA library (Clontech Laboratories, Inc.) was screened for hybridization to synthetic oligonucleotide primers complementary to the C-terminus of human nicotinic nAChR β3 subunit cDNA. Isolated plaques were transferred to nitrocellulose filters and hybridized under high stringency conditions with respect to oligonucleotides (washing conditions 1×SSPE, 0.2% SDS at 50° C.) with synthetic oligonucleotide primers complementary to the partial human β3 nAChR subunit described by Willoughby et al., (1993) Neurosci. Lett. 155, 136-139.
  • Two hybridizing clones were plaque-purified and characterized by restriction endonuclease mapping. The DNA sequence of the 5′- and 3′-ends of the cDNA insert was determined using commercially available T7 and SP6 oligonucleotide primers. The complete sequence of clone KBβ3.2 was determined. Clone KBβ3.2 contains a 1927 bp cDNA insert that contains a 1,377 nucleotide open reading frame encoding a full-length β3 nAChR subunit (nucleotides 98-1472 SEQ ID NO:3) as well as 97 nucleotides of 5′- and 453 nucleotides of 3′-untranslated sequences. The amino acid sequence deduced from the nucleotide sequence of the full-length clone has ˜81% identity with the amino acid sequence deduced from the rat nicotinic nAChR β3 subunit DNA. Several regions of the deduced rat and human β3 amino acid sequences are notably dissimilar:
      • amino acids 1-28 (the human signal sequence has only ˜25% identity with respect to the rat sequence),
      • amino acids 347-393 (the human sequence has only ˜55% identity with respect to the rat sequence),
      • amino acids 440-464 (the human sequence has only ˜68% identity with respect to the rat sequence).
    EXAMPLE 3 Preparation of Constructs for the Expression of Recombinant Human Neuronal nAChR Subunits
  • Isolated cDNAs encoding human neuronal nAChR subunits were incorporated into vectors for use in expressing the subunits in mammalian host cells and for use in generating in vitro transcripts from the DNAs to be expressed in Xenopus oöcytes. The following vectors were utilized in preparing the constructs.
  • A. Constructs for Expressing Human nAChR α6 Subunits
  • A 1,743 bp EcoRI fragment, encoding a full-length ACh α6 subunit, was isolated from KEα6.3 by standard methods and ligated into the EcoRI polylinker site of the vector pcDNA3 to generate pcDNA3-KEα6.3 (see FIG. 1). Plasmid pcDNA3 (see FIG. 1) is a pUC19-based vector that contains a CMV promoter/enhancer, a T7 bacteriophage RNA polymerase promoter positioned downstream of the CMV promoter/enhancer, a bovine growth hormone (BGH) polyadenylation signal downstream of the T7 promoter, and a polylinker between the T7 promoter and the BGH polyadenylation signal. This vector thus contains all of the regulatory elements required for expression in a mammalian host cell of heterologous DNA which has been incorporated into the vector at the polylinker. In addition, because the T7 promoter is located just upstream of the polylinker, this plasmid can be used for the synthesis of in vitro transcripts of heterologous DNA that has been subcloned into the vector at the polylinker. Furthermore, this plasmid contains a gene encoding neomycin resistance used as a selectable marker during transfection. FIG. 1 also shows a partial restriction map of pcDNA3-KEα6.3.
  • The expression of the full-length human nAChR α6 subunit was optimized by the introduction of a consensus ribosome binding site (RBS; Kozak, 1991) prior to the translational start codon. The existing 5′-untranslated region was modified by PCR mutagenesis using the plasmid pcDNA3-KEα6.3 as a DNA template and a complementary upstream oligonucleotide containing the appropriate nucleotide RBS substitutions as well as flanking 5′ HindIII and EcoRI sites, and an oligonucleotide complementary to α6 coding sequences ˜450 nucleotides downstream of the translational start codon. The resulting PCR fragment contained HindIII and EcoRI sites followed by the consensus RBS and nucleotides 1-459 of the human ACh α6 coding sequence (nucleotides 143-602 of SEQ ID NO:1). The amplified DNA was digested with HindIII and BamHI; the 308 bp HindIII-BamHI fragment was isolated and ligated with the 5.3 kb BamHI-PvuI fragment of pcDNA3-KE6.3 and the 1.4 kb PvuI to HindIII fragment from pcDNA3 to generate the ˜7.0 kb plasmid pcDNA3-KEαa6RBS.
  • B. Constructs for Expressing Human Neuronal nAChR β3 Subunits
  • An ˜2.0 kb EcoRI fragment, encoding a full-length nicotinic ACh β3 subunit, was isolated from KEβ3.2 by standard methods and ligated into the EcoRI polylinker site of the vector pcDNA3 to generate pcDNA3-KEβ3.2 (see FIG. 2). FIG. 2 also shows a partial restriction map of pcDNA3-KEβ3.2.
  • The expression of the full-length human nicotinic nAChR β3 subunit is optimized by the introduction of a consensus ribosome binding site (RBS) prior to the translational start codon. The existing 5′-untranslated region is modified by PCR mutagenesis using a method similar to that described above for the α6 nAChR subunit.
  • EXAMPLE 4 Expression of Recombinant Human Neuronal nAChR in Oocytes
  • Xenopus oocytes are injected with in vitro transcripts prepared from constructs containing DNA encoding α6 and β3 subunits. Electrophysiological measurements of the oocyte transmembrane currents are made using the two-electrode voltage clamp technique (see, e.g., Stuhmer (1992) Meth. Enzymol. 207:319-339).
  • 1. Preparation of in vitro transcripts
  • Recombinant capped transcripts of pcDNA3-KEα6RBS and pcDNA3-KBβ3RBS are synthesized from linearized plasmids using the mMessage and mMachine in vitro transcription kit according to the capped transcript protocol provided by the manufacturer (Catalog 1344 from AMBION, Inc., Austin, Tex.). The mass of each synthesized transcript is determined by UV absorbance and the integrity of each transcript is determined by electrophoresis through an agarose gel.
  • 2. Electrophysiology
  • Xenopus oocytes are injected with either 12.5, 50 or 125 ng of one or more human nicotinic nAChR α and β subunit transcript per oocyte. The preparation and injection of oocytes is carried out as described by Dascal (1987) in Crit. Rev. Biochem. 22:317-387. Two-to-six days following mRNA injection, the oocytes are examined using the two-electrode voltage clamp technique. The cells are bathed in Ringer's solution (115 mM NaCl, 2.5 mM KCl, 1.8 mM CaCl2, 10 mM HEPES, pH 7.3) containing 1 μM atropine with or without 100 μM d-tubocurarine. Cells are seen to be voltage-clamped at −60 to −80 mV. Data are acquired with Axotape software at 2-5 Hz. The agonists acetylcholine (ACh), nicotine, and cytisine are added at concentrations ranging from 0.1 μM to 100 μM.
  • EXAMPLE 5 Recombinant Expression of Human nAChR Subunits in Mammalian Cells
  • Human embryonic kidney (HEK) 293 cells are transiently and stably transfected with DNA encoding human neuronal nicotinic nAChR α6 and β3 subunits. Transient transfectants are analyzed for expression of nicotinic nAChR using various assays, e.g., electrophysiological methods, Ca2+-sensitive fluorescent indicator-based assays.
  • 1. Transient Transfection of HEK Cells
  • HEK cells are transiently co-transfected with DNA encoding one or more a subunit and/or one or more β subunits. Approximately 2×106 HEK cells are transiently transfected with 18 μg of the indicated plasmid(s) according to standard CaPO4 transfection procedures [Wigler et al. (1979) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 76:1373-1376] or using lipofectamine according to the manufacturer's instructions (Bethesda Research Laboratory (BRL), Gaithersburg, Md.). In addition, 2 μg of plasmid pCMVβgal (Clontech Laboratories, Palo Alto, Calif.), which contains the Escherichia coli β-galactosidase gene fused to the CMV promoter, are co-transfected as a reporter gene for monitoring the efficiency of transfection. The transfectants are analyzed for β-galactosidase expression by measurement of β-galactosidase activity [Miller (1972) Experiments in Molecular Genetics, pp.352-355, Cold Spring Harbor Press]. Transfectants can also be analyzed for β-galactosidase expression by direct staining of the product of a reaction involving β-galactosidase and the X-gal substrate [Jones (1986) EMBO 5:3133-3142].
  • 2. Stable Transfection of HEK Cells
  • HEK cells are transfected using the calcium phosphate transfection procedure [Current Protocols in Molecular Biology, Vol. 1, Wiley Inter-Science, Supplement 14, Unit 9.1.1-9.1.9 (1990)]. HEK cells are transfected with 1 ml of DNA/calcium phosphate precipitate containing the DNA encoding the desired alpha and beta subunits and pSV2neo (as a selectable marker). After 14 days of growth in medium containing 1 μg/ml G418, colonies form and are individually isolated by using cloning cylinders. The isolates are subjected to limiting dilution and screened to identify those that expressed the highest level of nAChR, as described below.
  • 3. Analysis of Transfectants
  • a. Fluorescent Indicator-Based Assays
  • Activation of the ligand-gated nAChR by agonists leads to an influx of cations, including Ca++, through the receptor channel. Ca++ entry into the cell through the channel can induce release of calcium contained in intracellular stores. Monovalent cation entry into the cell through the channel can also result in an increase in cytoplasmic Ca++ levels through depolarization of the membrane and subsequent activation of voltage-dependent calcium channels. Therefore, methods of detecting transient increases in intracellular calcium concentration can be applied to the analysis of functional nicotinic nAChR expression. One method for measuring intracellular calcium levels relies on calcium-sensitive fluorescent indicators.
  • Calcium-sensitive indicators, such as fluo-3 (Catalog No. F-1241, Molecular Probes, Inc., Eugene, Oreg.), are available as acetoxymethyl esters which are membrane permeable. When the acetoxymethyl ester form of the indicator enters a cell, the ester group is removed by cytosolic esterases, thereby trapping the free indicator in the cytosol. Interaction of the free indicator with calcium results in increased fluorescence of the indicator; therefore, an increase in the intracellular Ca2+ concentration of cells containing the indicator can be expressed directly as an increase in fluorescence. An automated fluorescence detection system for assaying nicotinic nAChR has been described in commonly assigned pending U.S. patent application Ser. No. 07/812,254 and corresponding PCT Patent Application No. US92/11090.
  • HEK cells that are transiently or stably co-transfected with DNA encoding appropriate α and/or β subunits and α6 and β3 subunits are analyzed for expression of functional recombinant nAChR using the automated fluorescent indicator-based assay. The assay procedure is as follows.
  • Untransfected HEK cells and HEK cells co-transfected with the appropriate α and β subunits are plated in the wells of a 96-well microtiter dish and loaded with fluo-3 by incubation for 2 hours at 20° C. in a medium containing 20 μM fluo-3, 0.2% Pluronic F-127 in HBS (125 mM NaCl, 5 mM KCl, 1.8 mM CaCl2, 0.62, mM MgSO4, 6 mM glucose, 20 mM HEPES, pH 7.4). The cells are then washed with assay buffer (i.e., HBS). The antagonist d-tubocurarine is added to some of the wells at a final concentration of 10 μM. The microtiter dish is then placed into a fluorescence plate reader and the basal fluorescence of each well is measured and recorded before addition of agonist, e.g., 200 μM nicotine, to the wells. The fluorescence of the wells is monitored repeatedly during a period of approximately 60 seconds following addition of nicotine.
  • The fluorescence of the untransfected HEK cells does not change after addition of nicotine. In contrast, the fluorescence of the co-transfected cells, in the absence of d-tubocurarine, increases dramatically after addition of nicotine to the wells. This nicotine-stimulated increase in fluorescence was not observed in co-transfected cells that had been exposed to the antagonist d-tubocurarine. These results demonstrate that the co-transfected cells express functional- recombinant nAChR that are activated by nicotine and blocked by d-tubocurarine.
  • EXAMPLE 6 Characterization of Cell Lines Expressing Human Neuronal nAChRs
  • Recombinant cell lines generated by transfection with DNA encoding human neuronal nAChRs, such as those described in Example 3, can be further characterized using one or more of the following methods.
  • A. Northern or Slot Blot Analysis for Expression of α- and/or β-Subunit Encoding Messages
  • Total RNA is isolated from ˜1×107 cells and 10-15 μg of RNA from each cell type is used for Northern or slot blot hybridization analysis. The inserts from human neuronal nAChR-encoding plasmids can be nick-translated and used as probe. In addition, a fragment of the glycoraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPD) gene sequence (Tso et al. (1985) Nucleic Acids Res. 13, 2485) can be nick-translated and used as a control probe on duplicate filters to confirm the presence or absence of RNA on each blot and to provide a rough standard for use in quantitating differences in α- or β-specific mRNA levels between cell lines. Typical Northern and slot blot hybridization and wash conditions are as follows:
      • hybridization in 5×SSPE, 5× Denhardt's solution, 0.2% SDS, 200 μg/ml denatured, sonicated herring sperm DNA, 50% formamide, at 42° C. followed by washing in 0.1×SSPE, 0.1% SDS, at 65° C.
  • B. Nicotine-Binding Assay
  • Cell lines generated by transfection with human neuronal nAChR α- or α- and β-subunit-encoding DNA can be analyzed for their ability to bind nicotine, for example, as compared to control cell lines:
      • neuronally-derived cell lines PC12 (Boulter et al., (1986), supra; ATCC #CRL1721) and IMR32 (Clementi, et al. (1986); Int. J.
  • Neurochem. 47:291-297; ATCC #CCL127), and muscle-derived cell line BC3H1 (Patrick, et al., (1977); J. Biol. Chem. 252:2143-2153). Negative control cells (i.e., host cells from which the transfectants were prepared) are also included in the assay. The assay is conducted as follows:
  • Just prior to being assayed, transfected cells are removed from plates by scraping. Positive control cells used are PC12, BC3H1, and IMR32 (which had been starved for fresh media for seven days). Control cell lines are removed by rinsing in 37° C. assay buffer (50 mM Tris/HCl, 1 mM MgCl2, 2 mM CaCl2, 120 mM NaCl, 3 mM EDTA, 2 mg/ml BSA and 0.1% aprotinin at pH7.4). The cells are washed and resuspended to a concentration of 1×106/250 μl. To each plastic assay tube is added 250 μl of the cell solution, 15 nM 3H-nicotine, with or without 1 mM unlabeled nicotine, and assay buffer to make a final volume of 500 μl. The assays for the transfected cell lines are incubated for 30 min at room temperature; the assays of the positive control cells are incubated for 2 min at 1° C. After the appropriate incubation time, 450 μl aliquots of assay volume are filtered through Whatman GF/C glass fiber filters which has been pretreated by incubation in 0.05% polyethyleneimine for 24 hours at 4° C. The filters are then washed twice, with 4 ml each wash, with ice cold assay buffer. After washing, the filters are dried, added to vials containing 5 ml scintillation fluid and radioactivity is measured.
  • C. 86Rb Ion-Flux Assay
  • The ability of nicotine or nAChR agonists and antagonists to mediate the influx of 86Rb into transfected and control cells has been found to provide an indication of the presence of functional nAChRs on the cell surface. The 86Rb ion-flux assay is conducted as follows:
  • 1. The night before the experiment, cells are plated at 2×106 per well (i.e., 2 ml per well) in a 6-well polylysine-coated plate.
  • 2. The culture medium is decanted and the plate washed with 2 ml of assay buffer (50 mM HEPES, 260 mM sucrose, 5.4 mM KCl, 1.8 mM CaCl2, 0.8 mM MgSO4, 5.5. mM glucose) at room temperature.
  • 3. The assay buffer is decanted and 1 ml of assay buffer, containing 3 μCi/ml 86Rb, with 5 mM ouabain and agonist or antagonist in a concentration to effect a maximum response, is added.
  • 4. The plate is incubated on ice at 1° C. for 4 min.
  • 5. The buffer is decanted into a waste container and each well was washed with 3 ml of assay buffer, followed by two washes of 2 ml each.
  • 6. The cells are lysed with 2×0.5 ml of 0.2% SDS per well and transferred to a scintillation vial containing 5 ml of scintillation fluid.
  • 7. The radioactivity contained in each vial is measured and the data calculated.
  • Positive control cells provided the following data in this assay:
    PC12 IMR32
    Maximum Maximum
    EC50 response EC50 response
    Agonist
    nicotine   52 μM 2.1Xa 18 μM 7.7Xa
    CCh*   35 μM 3.3Xb 230 μM  7.6Xc
    cytisine   57 μM 3.6Xd 14 μM 10Xe  
    Antagonist
    d-tubocurarine 0.81 μM 2.5 μM 
    mecamylamine 0.42 μM 0.11 μM  
    hexamethonium ndf 22 μM
    atropine 12.5 μM 43 μM

    *CCh = carbamylcholine

    a200 μM nicotine

    b300 μM CCh

    c3 mM CCh

    d1 mM cytisine

    e100 μM cytisine

    fnd = not determined
  • D. Electrophysiological Analysis of Mammalian Cells Transfected with Human Neuronal nAChR Subunit-encoding DNA
  • Electrophysiological measurements may be used to assess the activity of recombinant receptors or to assess the ability of a test compound to potentiate, antagonize or otherwise modulate the magnitude and duration of the flow of cations through the ligand-gated recombinant nAChR. The function of the expressed neuronal nAChR can be assessed by a variety of electrophysiological techniques, including two-electrode voltage clamp and patch clamp methods. The cation-conducting channel intrinsic to the nAChR opens in response to acetylcholine (ACh) or other nicotinic cholinergic agonists, permitting the flow of transmembrane current carried predominantly by sodium and potassium ions under physiological conditions. This current can be monitored directly by voltage clamp techniques. In preferred embodiments, transfected mammalian cells or injected oocytes are analyzed electrophysiologically for the presence of nAChR agonist-dependent currents.
  • While the invention has been described in detail with reference to certain preferred embodiments thereof, it will be understood that modifications and variations are within the spirit and scope of that which is described and claimed.
  • Summary of Sequences
  • Sequence ID No. 1 is a nucleotide sequence encoding an α6 subunit of human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, and the deduced amino acid sequence thereof.
  • Sequence ID No. 2 is the amino acid sequence of the α6 subunit of human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor set forth in Sequence ID No. 1.
  • Sequence ID No. 3 is a nucleotide sequence encoding a β3 subunit of human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, and the deduced amino acid sequence thereof.
  • Sequence ID No. 4 is the amino acid sequence of the β3 subunit of human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor set forth in Sequence ID No. 3.

Claims (34)

  1. 1. Isolated DNA comprising a sequence of nucleotides encoding an α6 subunit of a human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor.
  2. 2. DNA according to claim 1 wherein
    said DNA encodes the amino acid sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO:1, or
    said DNA encodes the amino acid sequence encoded by clone pcDNA3-KEalpha6.3.
  3. 3. DNA according to claim 1 wherein
    said DNA hybridizes to substantially the entire coding sequence (nucleotides 143-1624) set forth in SEQ ID NO:1 under high stringency conditions, or
    said DNA hybridizes under high stringency conditions to substantially the entire sequence of the α6-encoding insert of clone pcDNA3-KEalpha6.3.
  4. 4. DNA according to claim 1 wherein
    said DNA has substantially the same nucleotide sequence as nucleotides 143-1624 set forth in SEQ ID NO:1, or
    said DNA has substantially the same nucleotide sequence as the α6-encoding insert of clone pcDNA3-KEalpha6.3.
  5. 5. Isolated DNA comprising nucleotides encoding a substantially full length β3 subunit of a human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor.
  6. 6. DNA according to claim 5 wherein the nucleotides of said DNA encode the amino acid sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO:4.
  7. 7. DNA according to claim 5 wherein the nucleotides of said DNA hybridize under high stringency conditions to substantially the entire coding sequence (nucleotides 98-1472) set forth in SEQ ID NO:3.
  8. 8. DNA according to claim 5 wherein the nucleotides of said DNA have substantially the same nucleotide sequence as nucleotides 98-1472 set forth in SEQ ID NO:3.
  9. 9. Cells containing at least one DNA according to claim 1, wherein said cells are bacterial cells, eukaryotic cells or amphibian oöcytes.
  10. 10. Cells according to claim 9, further containing at least one DNA encoding a β subunit of human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor.
  11. 11. Cells according to claim 10 wherein said β subunit is selected from β2, β3 or β4.
  12. 12. Cells according to claim 10 wherein said P subunit is β3.
  13. 13. Cells according to claim 9 wherein said cells express functional neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors that contain one or more subunits encoded by said DNA.
  14. 14. Cells containing at least one DNA according to claim 5, wherein said cells are bacterial cells, eukaryotic cells or amphibian oöcytes.
  15. 15. Cells according to claim 14, further containing at least one DNA encoding an α subunit of human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor.
  16. 16. Cells according to claim 15 wherein said α subunit is selected from α2, α3, α4, α5, α6, or α7.
  17. 17. Cells according to claim 20 wherein said α subunit is α6.
  18. 18. Cells according to claim 14 wherein said cells express functional neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors that contain one or more subunits encoded by said DNA.
  19. 19. A method of screening compounds to identify compounds which modulate the activity of human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, said method comprising determining the effect of a compound on the neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor activity in test cells according to claim 10, compared to the effect on control cells or to the neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor activity of the cells in the absence of the compound,
    wherein control cells are substantially identical to the test cells, but control cells do not express nicotinic acetylcholine receptors.
  20. 20. A method of screening compounds to identify compounds which modulate the activity of human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, said method comprising determining the effect of a compound on the neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor activity in test cells according to claim 15, compared to the effect on control cells or to the neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor activity of the cells in the absence of the compound,
    wherein control cells are substantially identical to the test cells, but control cells do not express nicotinic acetylcholine receptors.
  21. 21. Recombinant human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor α6 subunit.
  22. 22. A recombinant human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor comprising one or more of the subunits of claim 21.
  23. 23. Human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor according to claim 22, further comprising at least one human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor beta subunit.
  24. 24. Recombinant human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor β3 subunit.
  25. 25. A recombinant human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor comprising the subunit of claim 24.
  26. 26. Human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor according to claim 25, further comprising at least one human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor alpha subunit.
  27. 27. A method for identifying functional neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunits and combinations thereof, said method comprising:
    (a) introducing at least one DNA according to claim 1, or RNA complementary thereto, and optionally DNA encoding at least one beta subunit of a human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, or RNA complementary thereto, into eukaryotic cells; and
    (b) assaying for neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor activity in cells of step (a), wherein the activity is mediated by a receptor containing one or more of the subunits encoded by said introduced DNA.
  28. 28. A method for identifying functional neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunits and combinations thereof, said method comprising:
    (a) introducing at least one DNA according to claim 5, or RNA complementary thereto, and DNA encoding at least one alpha subunit of a neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, or RNA complementary thereto, into eukaryotic cells; and
    (b) assaying for neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor activity in cells of step (a), wherein the activity is mediated by a receptor containing one or more of the subunits encoded by said introduced DNA.
  29. 29. Isolated mRNA encoded by the DNA of claim 1.
  30. 30. Isolated mRNA encoded by the DNA of claim 5.
  31. 31. Cells containing mRNA according to claim 29.
  32. 32. Cells containing mRNA according to claim 30.
  33. 33. Cells according to claim 31 wherein said cells further contain mRNA encoding a beta subunit of a human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor.
  34. 34. Cells according to claim 32 wherein said cells further contain mRNA encoding an alpha subunit of a human neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor.
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