A new detail about an important part of the brain's complex communication system has been identified by researchers at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen in collaboration the company NeuroSearch.
The discovery could form the basis for future development of better medicines for patients with psychiatric disorders. ew knowledge challenges established scientific ideas about the function of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, which play an important role in the health of the brain.
As its name suggests, the class of receptors is significant for the effects of nicotine and is linked to addiction - however, life-threatening conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease are also linked to the electrical impulses that are mediated by nicotinic acetylcholine receptors.
"Brain function is a gigantic puzzle, and one could say that we have found and documented a new and important piece," said Thomas Balle, an associate professor at the Department of Medicinal Chemistry, University of Copenhagen.
"Within the family of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors exist various subtypes. We show - in short - that on the most common subtype there are no less than three binding sites instead of the two which science has hitherto known," he explained.
Balle has, in collaboration with Postdoctoral Fellow Kasper Harpsoe and researchers at the company NeuroSearch, discovered the previously unexplored corner of the otherwise well-known receptor.
The nicotinic acetylcholine receptors are structurally similar to the GABAA receptors, which also play an important role in pharmaceutical chemical brain research.
Benzodiazepines for insomnia and anxiety attacks constitute a class of well established drugs that act by modulating the GABAA system.
The scientists believe that they have discovered the nicotine equivalent of a benzodiazepine binding site.
The results were recently published Journal of Neuroscience.