The regulation of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) in chick ciliary ganglia was examined by using a radiolabeled anti-AChR mAb to quantitate the amount of receptor in ganglion detergent extracts after preganglionic denervation or postganglionic axotomy. Surgical transection of the preganglionic input to the ciliary ganglion in newly hatched chicks caused a threefold reduction in the total number of AChRs within 10 d compared with that present in unoperated contralateral control ganglia. Surgical transection of both the choroid and ciliary nerves emerging from the ciliary ganglion in newly hatched chicks to establish postganglionic axotomy led to a nearly 10-fold reduction in AChRs within 5 d compared with unoperated contralateral ganglia. The declines were specific since they could not be accounted for by changes in ganglionic protein or by decreases in neuronal survival or size. Light microscopy revealed no gross morphological differences between neurons in operated and control ganglia. A second membrane component of cholinergic relevance on chick ciliary ganglion neurons is the alpha-bungarotoxin (alpha-Bgt)-binding component. The alpha-Bgt-binding component also declined in number after either postganglionic axotomy or preganglionic denervation, but appeared to do so with a more rapid time course than did ganglionic AChRs. The results imply that cell-cell interactions in vivo specifically regulate both the number of AChRs and the number of alpha-Bgt-binding components in the ganglion. Regulation of these neuronal cholinergic membrane components clearly differs from that previously described for muscle AChRs.

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