Nicotine is the primary psychoactive substance in tobacco, and it exerts its effects by interaction with various subtypes of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in the brain. One of the major subtypes expressed in brain, the α4β2-nAChR, endogenously modulates neuronal excitability and thereby, modifies certain normal as well as nicotine-induced behaviors. Although α4-containing nAChRs are widely expressed across the brain, a major focus has been on their roles within midbrain dopaminergic regions involved in drug addiction, mental illness, and movement control in humans. We developed a unique model system to examine the role of α4-nAChRs within dopaminergic neurons by a targeted genetic deletion of the α4 subunit from dopaminergic neurons in mice. The loss α4 mRNA and α4β2-nAChRs from dopaminergic neurons was confirmed, as well as selective loss of α4β2-nAChR function from dopaminergic but not GABAergic neurons. Two behaviors central to nicotine dependence, reward and anxiety relief, were examined. α4-nAChRs specifically on dopaminergic neurons were demonstrated to be necessary for nicotine reward as measured by nicotine place preference, but not for another drug of addiction, cocaine. α4-nAChRs are necessary for the anxiolytic effects of nicotine in the elevated plus maze, and elimination of α4β2-nAChRs specifically from dopaminergic neurons decreased sensitivity to the anxiolytic effects of nicotine. Deletion of α4-nAChRs specifically from dopaminergic neurons also increased sensitivity to nicotine-induced locomotor depression; however, nicotine-induced hypothermia was unaffected. This is the first work to develop a dopaminergic specific deletion of a nAChR subunit and examine resulting changes in nicotine-related behaviors.

Source: http://www.jneurosci.org/cgi/content/short/31/30/10891?rss=1

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