The receptor for acetylcholine in the subsynaptic membrane of the electroplax of Electrophorus electricus is a protein with a disulfide bond in the vicinity of the active site. This disulfide can be reduced and reoxidized with concomitant inhibition and restoration of the response to acetylcholine and other monoquaternary ammonium-depolarizing agents. Conversely, the bisquaternary hexamethonium, normally a competitive inhibitor, causes depolarization, and the activity of decamethonium is increased following reduction of the disulfide. The reduced receptor can be alkylated by various maleimide derivatives and is then no longer reoxidizable. Some quaternary ammonium maleimide derivatives act as affinity labels of the reduced receptor, alkylating it at a rate three orders of magnitude faster then do uncharged maleimide derivatives. Other types of potential affinity labels also react only with the reduced receptor and the resulting covalently attached quaternary ammonium moieties interact with the active site, strongly activating the receptor. These results suggest a model for the active site and its transitions in which an activator such as acetylcholine bridges between a negative subsite and a hydrophobic subsite in the vicinity of the disulfide, causing an altered conformation around the negative subsite and a decrasee of a few angstroms in the distance between the two subsites.

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