High therapeutic potential of positive allosteric modulation of α7 nAChRs in a rat model of traumatic brain injury: proof-of-concept

Document Type


Publication Date



There are currently no clinically-efficacious drug therapies to treat brain damage secondary to traumatic brain injury (TBI). In this proof-of-concept study, we used a controlled cortical impact model of TBI in young adult rats to explore a novel promising approach that utilizes PNU-120596, a previously-reported highly selective Type-II positive allosteric modulator (α7-PAM) of α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). α7-PAMs enhance and prolong α7 nAChR activation, but do not activate α7 nAChRs when administered without an agonist. The rational basis for the use of an α7-PAM as a post-TBI treatment is tripartite and arises from: 1) the intrinsic ability of brain injury to elevate extracellular levels of choline (a ubiquitous cell membrane-building material and a selective endogenous agonist of α7 nAChRs) due to the breakdown of cell membranes near the site and time of injury; 2) the ubiquitous expression of functional α7 nAChRs in neuronal and glial/immune brain cells; and 3) the potent neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects of α7 nAChR activation. Therefore, both neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects can be achieved post-TBI by targeting only a single player (i.e., the α7 nAChR) using α7-PAMs to enhance the activation of α7 nAChRs by injury-elevated extracellular choline. Our data support this hypothesis and demonstrate that subcutaneous administration of PNU-120596 post-TBI in young adult rats significantly reduces both brain cell damage and reactive gliosis. Therefore, our results introduce post-TBI systemic administration of α7-PAMs as a promising therapeutic intervention that could significantly restrict brain injury post-TBI and facilitate recovery of TBI patients.