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Claude Bernard (1813-1878) was fascinated by the pharmacological mechanisms of poisons. In particular, using a huge amount of ingenious and robust experiments, he demonstrated the peripheral toxic action of the natural compound curare. His work generated controversies in a period where scientific methodology and technical development followed the progression of concepts and ideas. From his intense debates with Albert Vulpian emerged the location of curare's toxicity at the neuromuscular junction. These two fascinating scientists could not imagine how important were these discoveries which allowed John Langley to propose the concept of receptor early in the 20th century. At the same time, the German immunologist Paul Ehrlich suggested that these receptors could be targeted by so-called "magic bullets", i.e., drugs that act on receptors, in order to treat patients. The molecular substrate of curare's activity was identified many years later as the nicotinic receptor of the motor end-plate. We now have curare molecules belonging to various chemical families that block receptors during anaesthesia. Suggamadex is the antidote for two of them, a drug that Claude Bernard perhaps dreamt of. We also have the recently marketed varenicline that acts as a partial agonist of nicotinic receptors in the central nervous system to treat patients from tobacco addiction. This rich story shows that biomedical research needs collaborations, imagination, perspicacity but also all results that it can have many years later, therefore challenging researchers about consequences of their discoveries.
This article was published in the following journal.
Name: Biologie aujourd'hui
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Drugs that bind to nicotinic cholinergic receptors (RECEPTORS, NICOTINIC) and block the actions of acetylcholine or cholinergic agonists. Nicotinic antagonists block synaptic transmission at autonomic ganglia, the skeletal neuromuscular junction, and at central nervous system nicotinic synapses.
A heterogeneous group of disorders characterized by a congenital defect in neuromuscular transmission at the NEUROMUSCULAR JUNCTION. This includes presynaptic, synaptic, and postsynaptic disorders (that are not of autoimmune origin). The majority of these diseases are caused by mutations of various subunits of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (RECEPTORS, NICOTINIC) on the postsynaptic surface of the junction. (From Arch Neurol 1999 Feb;56(2):163-7)
Drugs that bind to and activate nicotinic cholinergic receptors (RECEPTORS, NICOTINIC). Nicotinic agonists act at postganglionic nicotinic receptors, at neuroeffector junctions in the peripheral nervous system, and at nicotinic receptors in the central nervous system. Agents that function as neuromuscular depolarizing blocking agents are included here because they activate nicotinic receptors, although they are used clinically to block nicotinic transmission.
A selective nicotinic cholinergic agonist used as a research tool. DMPP activates nicotinic receptors in autonomic ganglia but has little effect at the neuromuscular junction.
A curare alkaloid that is a very potent competitive nicotinic antagonist at the neuromuscular junction.
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