The properties of the binding of the muscarinic receptor ligands, [3H]quinuclidinyl benzilate ([3H]QNB) and [3H]N-methylscopolamine ([3H]NMS) in human mononuclear cells were compared. The binding of [3H]QNB showed a high, non-specific component and lack of saturability in both intact mononuclear cells and preparations of lysed mononuclear cell membranes. Conversely the specific binding of [3H]NMS had a high affinity and was saturable at concentrations greater than 30 nM in both intact and broken cells. Classical muscarinic receptor antagonists displaced specific binding of [3H]NMS binding according to the law of mass action, while displacement curves for pirenzepine and muscarinic agonists were very shallow (nH less than 1), suggesting the presence of more than one subtype of muscarinic receptor on mononuclear cell membranes. Binding studies with [3H]NMS to purified mononuclear cell subpopulations demonstrated that muscarinic binding sites were mainly localized on thymus-derived (T) lymphocytes and large granule lymphocytes. Moreover evidence is presented of an age-dependent increase of the density of muscarinic binding sites on T-lymphocytes. The results are discussed in terms of the usefulness of the binding of [3H]NMS in studying the physiological function of muscarinic receptors on human T-lymphocytes and their possible changes in patients with neurological diseases.
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