An acetylcholine receptor (abbreviated AChR) is an integral membrane protein that responds to the binding of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter.
Like other transmembrane receptors, acetylcholine receptors are classified according to their "pharmacology", or according to their relative affinities and sensitivities to different molecules. Although all acetylcholine receptors, by definition, respond to acetylcholine, they respond to other molecules as well.
Nicotinic and muscarinic are two main kinds of "cholinergic" receptors.
Molecular biology has shown that the nicotinic and muscarinic receptors belong to distinct protein superfamilies.
The nAChRs are ligand-gated ion channels, and, like other members of the "cys-loop" ligand-gated ion channel superfamily, are composed of five protein subunits symmetrically arranged like staves around a barrel. The subunit composition is highly variable across different tissues. Each subunit contains four regions which span the membrane and consist of approximately 20 amino acids. Region II which sits closest to the pore lumen, forms the pore lining.
Binding of acetylcholine to the N termini of each of the two alpha subunits results in the 15° rotation of all M2 helices. The cytoplasm side of the nAChR receptor has rings of high negative charge that determine the specific cation specificity of the receptor and remove the hydration shell often formed by ions in aqueous solution. In the intermediate region of the receptor, within the pore lumen, valine and leucine residues (Val 255 and Leu 251) define a hydrophobic region which the dehydrated ion must pass through.
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