Distinctive roles for α7*- and α9*-nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in inflammatory and autoimmune responses in the murine experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis model of multiple sclerosis

Qiang Liu, Paul Whiteaker, Barbara J. Morley, Fu Dong Shi, Ronald J. Lukas

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Previous studies have demonstrated immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory effects of nicotine, including in the experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) model in mice of some forms of multiple sclerosis (MS). Other studies using knock-out (KO) mice have implicated nicotinic acetylcholine (ACh) receptors containing α7, α9, or β2 subunits (α7*-, α9*- or β2*-nAChR) in different, disease exacerbating or disease-ameliorating processes. These outcomes are in harmony with gene expression analyses showing nAChR subunit mRNA in many classes of immune system cell types. Consistent with influences on disease status, predictable effects of nAChR subunit (and subtype) KO, or of nicotine exposure, are seen on immune cell numbers and distribution and on cytokine levels or other markers of immunity, inflammation, demyelination, and axonal degradation. Providing support for our hypotheses about distinctive roles for nAChR subtypes in EAE, here we have used direct and adoptive EAE induction and a nAChR subunit gene double knock-out (DKO) strategy. Immune cell expression of nAChR α9 subunits as protein is demonstrated by immunostaining of isolated CD4+, CD8+, CD11b+ and CD11c+ cells from wild-type (WT) mice, but not in cells from nAChR α9 subunit KO animals. Nicotine exposure is protective against directly-induced EAE in WT or α7/α9 DKO animals relative to effects seen in WT/vehicle-treated mice, but, remarkably, EAE is exacerbated in vehicle-treated α7/α9 DKO mice. Brain lesion volume and intracranial inflammatory activity similarly are higher in DKO/vehicle than in WT/vehicletreated animals, although nicotine’s protective effects are seen in each instance. By contrast, in adoptive transfer studies, disease severity is attenuated and disease onset is delayed in recipients of splenocytes from WT animals treated with nicotine rather than with vehicle. Moreover, protection as seen in nicotine-treated WT animals is the same in recipients of splenocytes from nAChR α7/α9 DKO mice irrespective of their exposure to nicotine or vehicle. When combined with previous observations, these findings are consistent with disease exacerbation (or even induction) being mediated at least in part via α9*-nAChR in peripheral immune cells. They also suggest protective roles of central nervous system (CNS) α7*-nAChR. The results suggest that both α7*- and α9*-nAChR are potential targets of therapeutic ligands to modulate inflammation and autoimmunity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number287
JournalFrontiers in Cellular Neuroscience
StatePublished - Sep 22 2017



  • Auto-immunity
  • Cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway
  • Experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis
  • Inflammation
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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