Anesthetic effects on the structure and dynamics of the second transmembrane domains of nAChR α4β2

Tanxing Cui, Christian G. Canlas, Yan Xu, Pei Tang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Channel functions of the neuronal α4β2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR), one of the most widely expressed subtypes in the brain, can be inhibited by volatile anesthetics. Our Na+ flux experiments confirmed that the second transmembrane domains (TM2) of α4 and β2 in 2:3 stoichiometry, (α4)2(β2)3, could form pentameric channels, whereas the α4 TM2 alone could not. The structure, topology, and dynamics of the α4 TM2 and (α4)2(β2)3 TM2 in magnetically aligned phospholipid bicelles were investigated using solid-state NMR spectroscopy in the absence and presence of halothane and isoflurane, two clinically used volatile anesthetics. 2H NMR demonstrated that anesthetics increased lipid conformational heterogeneity. Such anesthetic effects on lipids became more profound in the presence of transmembrane proteins. PISEMA experiments on the selectively 15N-labeled α4 TM2 showed that the TM2 formed transmembrane helices with tilt angles of 12° ± 1° and 16° ± 1° relative to the bicelle normal for the α4 and (α4)2(β2)3 samples, respectively. Anesthetics changed the tilt angle of the α4 TM2 from 12° ± 1° to 14° ± 1°, but had only a subtle effect on the tilt angle of the (α4)2(β2)3 TM2. A small degree of wobbling motion of the helix axis occurred in the (α4)2(β2)3 TM2. In addition, a subset of the (α4)2(β2)3 TM2 exhibited counterclockwise rotational motion around the helix axis on a time scale slower than 10- 4 s in the presence of anesthetics. Both helical tilting and rotational motions have been identified computationally as critical elements for ion channel functions. This study suggested that anesthetics could alter these motions to modulate channel functions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)161-166
Number of pages6
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Biomembranes
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Halothane
  • Isoflurane
  • Mechanisms of general anesthesia
  • Neuronal nAChR
  • Solid state NMR
  • Volatile anesthetics
  • a4b2
  • nAChR

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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