The Right Receptor for Attention

Science Signaling  16 Aug 2011:
Vol. 4, Issue 186, pp. ec228
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.4186ec228

Release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine from the basal forebrain cholinergic system is essential for sensory processing and cognition. Guillem et al. now describe a key role for β2-subunit–containing nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in visual attention. Mice lacking the β2 subunit exhibited impaired attentional performance. The deficit was recovered, however, by the reexpression of a β2-nAChR in the medial prefrontal cortex. Furthermore, in brain slices, the response of medial prefrontal cortical cells was abolished with a β2-nAChR antagonist and reinstated after washout. Attention is thus controlled by acetylcholine acting on the expression of β2-nAChR in the neurons of the medial prefrontal cortex.

K. Guillem, B. Bloem, R. B. Poorthuis, M. Loos, A. B. Smit, U. Maskos, S. Spijker, H. D. Mansvelder, Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor β2 subunits in the medial prefrontal cortex control attention. Science 333, 888–891 (2011). [Abstract] [Full Text]