Electrolyte and fluid secretion by the avian salt gland is regulated by activation of muscarinic acetylcholine receptors (R). In this study, these receptors were characterized and quantitated in homogenates of salt gland from domestic ducks adapted to conditions of low (freshwater, FW) and high (saltwater, SW) salt stress using the cholinergic antagonist [3H]-quinuclidinyl benzilate (QNB). Specific binding of the antagonist to receptors in both FW- and SW-adapted glands reveals a single population of high affinity binding sites (KdFW = 40.1 +/- 3.0 pM; KdSW = 35.1 +/- 2.1 pM). Binding is saturable; RLmaxFW = 1.73 +/- 0.10 fmol/micrograms DNA; RLmaxSW = 4.16 +/- 0.31 fmol/micrograms DNA (where L is [3H]QNB and RL the high affinity complex). Calculated average cellular receptor populations of 5,800 sites/cell in FW-adapted glands and 14,100 sites/cell in SW-adapted glands demonstrate that upward regulation of acetylcholine receptors in the secretory epithelium follows chronic salt stress. The receptor exhibits typical pharmacological specificities for muscarinic cholinergic antagonists (QNB, atropine, scopolamine) and agonists (oxotremorine, methacholine, carbachol). In addition, the loop diuretic furosemide, which interferes with ion transport processes in the salt gland, competitively inhibits [3H]QNB binding. Preliminary studies of furosemide effects on [3H]QNB binding to rat exorbital lacrimal gland membranes showed a similar inhibition, although the diuretic had no effect on antagonist binding to rat brain or atrial receptors.

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