Disconnection between activation and desensitization of autonomic nicotinic receptors by nicotine and cotinine

Jerry J. Buccafusco, Laura C. Shuster, Alvin V. Terry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Cotinine is the major metabolite of nicotine in humans, and the substance greatly outlasts the presence of nicotine in the body. Recently, cotinine has been shown to exert pharmacological properties of its own that include potential cognition enhancement, anti-psychotic activity, and cytoprotection. Since the metabolite is generally less potent than nicotine in vivo, we considered whether part of cotinine's efficacy could be related to a reduced ability to desensitize nicotinic receptors as compared with nicotine. Rats freely moving in their home cages were instrumented to allow ongoing measurement of mean arterial blood pressure (MAP). The ganglionic stimulant dimethylphenylpiperazinium (DMPP) maximally increased MAP by 25 mmHg. Slow (20 min) i.v. infusion of nicotine (0.25-1 μmol) produced no change in resting MAP, but the pressor response to subsequent injection of DMPP was significantly attenuated in a dose-dependent manner by up to 51%. Pre-infusion of equivalent doses of cotinine produced the same maximal degree of inhibition of the response to DMPP. Discrete i.v. injections of nicotine also produced a dose dependent increase in MAP of up to 43 mmHg after the highest tolerated dose. In contrast, injection of cotinine produced no significant change in MAP up to 13 times the highest dose of nicotine. These results illustrate the disconnection between nicotinic receptor activation and receptor desensitization, and they suggest that cotinine's pharmacological actions are either mediated through partial desensitization, or through non-ganglionic subtypes of nicotinic receptors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)68-71
Number of pages4
JournalNeuroscience Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 8 2007


  • Acetylcholine receptors
  • Desensitization
  • Ganglionic nicotinic receptors
  • Mean arterial blood pressure
  • Nicotine metabolites

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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