The efficacies of a series of six muscarinic cholinergic receptor agonists for stimulation of phosphoinositide breakdown and unidirectional efflux of 45Ca2+ in 1321N1 human astrocytoma cells were compared with the relative capacity of these agonists for formation of a GTP-sensitive high-affinity binding state in washed membranes. Carbachol and methacholine were ‘full’ agonists as regards phosphoinositide breakdown and Ca2+ mobilization, whereas bethanechol, arecoline and oxotremorine were ‘partial’ agonists for these two responses. Pilocarpine was the least efficacious of the six drugs tested. Except for pilocarpine, competition curves generated with the agonists and [3H]quinuclidinyl benzilate did not follow the Law of Mass Action for ligand interaction at a single site. Non-linear regression analyses of these data indicated that the data significantly better fit a two-, rather than a single-, site model with a high- and a low-affinity binding component. Competition curves generated in the presence of GTP were shifted to the right, and the extent of receptors in the high-affinity agonist-binding state was decreased. The relative efficacies of the six agonists for stimulation of phosphoinositide breakdown and Ca2+ mobilization were significantly correlated with the difference in affinities (KL/KH) between the two affinity states for each agonist. The relative efficacy of the agonists for stimulation of Ca2+ mobilization also was significantly correlated with the extent of receptors in the high-affinity state (%H) for each agonist. The results suggest that interaction with an as-yet unidentified guanine nucleotide regulatory protein is important in the mechanism whereby muscarinic receptors stimulate phosphoinositide breakdown in 1321N1 astrocytoma cells.

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