The α6β4 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) is enriched in dorsal root ganglia neurons and is an attractive non-opioid therapeutic target for pain. However, difficulty expressing human α6β4 receptors in recombinant systems has precluded drug discovery. Here, genome-wide screening identified accessory proteins that enable reconstitution of human α6β4 nAChRs. BARP, an auxiliary subunit of voltage-dependent calcium channels, promoted α6β4 surface expression while IRE1α, an unfolded protein response sensor, enhanced α6β4 receptor assembly. Effects on α6β4 involve BARP’s N-terminal region and IRE1α’s splicing of XBP1 mRNA. Furthermore, clinical efficacy of nicotinic agents in relieving neuropathic pain best correlated with their activity on α6β4. Finally, BARP-knockout, but not NACHO-knockout mice lacked nicotine-induced antiallodynia, highlighting the functional importance of α6β4 in pain. These results identify roles for IRE1α and BARP in neurotransmitter receptor assembly and unlock drug discovery for the previously elusive α6β4 receptor.
Daniel Knowland, Shenyan Gu, William A. Eckert III, G. Brent Dawe, Jose A. Matta, James Limberis, Alan D. Wickenden, Anindya Bhattacharya, David S. Bredt