Bovine adrenal chromaffin cells have nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) that mediate release of catecholamines from the cells in response to synaptic input, and resemble neuronal AChRs in pharmacology and antigenic profile. Results presented here show that a cAMP-dependent process enhances the function of adrenal chromaffin AChRs as a population in the plasma membrane. This was demonstrated by showing that cAMP analogues cause specific increases both in the level of nicotine-induced catecholamine release from the cells and in the level of the nicotine-induced conductance change occurring in the cells. Neither de novo synthesis of receptors nor transport of preexisting intracellular receptors to the plasma membrane is necessary for the enhancement. The responsiveness of AChRs to regulation by the cAMP-dependent process appears to depend on the length of time the receptors have been on the cell surface. AChRs newly inserted into the plasma membrane generate a greater nicotinic response than do older AChRs and, unlike older AChRs, their response to agonist is not enhanced after treatment of the cells with cAMP analogues. The findings indicate that the AChRs and/or associated components undergo a maturation in the plasma membrane that alters their function and their regulation by secondary messenger systems.

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