Endogenous cholinergic inputs and local circuit mechanisms govern the phasic mesolimbic dopamine response to nicotine.
ABSTRACT: Nicotine exerts its reinforcing action by stimulating nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) and boosting dopamine (DA) output from the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Recent data have led to a debate about the principal pathway of nicotine action: direct stimulation of the DAergic cells through nAChR activation, or disinhibition mediated through desensitization of nAChRs on GABAergic interneurons. We use a computational model of the VTA circuitry and nAChR function to shed light on this issue. Our model illustrates that the ?4?2-containing nAChRs either on DA or GABA cells can mediate the acute effects of nicotine. We account for in vitro as well as in vivo data, and predict the conditions necessary for either direct stimulation or disinhibition to be at the origin of DA activity increases. We propose key experiments to disentangle the contribution of both mechanisms. We show that the rate of endogenous acetylcholine input crucially determines the evoked DA response for both mechanisms. Together our results delineate the mechanisms by which the VTA mediates the acute rewarding properties of nicotine and suggest an acetylcholine dependence hypothesis for nicotine reinforcement.
Project description:Nicotine activation of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) within the dopaminergic (DAergic) neuron-rich ventral tegmental area (VTA) is necessary and sufficient for nicotine reinforcement. In this study, we show that rewarding doses of nicotine activated VTA DAergic neurons in a region-selective manner, preferentially activating neurons in the posterior VTA (pVTA) but not in the anterior VTA (aVTA) or in the tail VTA (tVTA). Nicotine (1??M) directly activated pVTA DAergic neurons in adult mouse midbrain slices, but had little effect on DAergic neurons within the aVTA. Quantification of nAChR subunit gene expression revealed that pVTA DAergic neurons expressed higher levels of ?4, ?6, and ?3 transcripts than did aVTA DAergic neurons. Activation of nAChRs containing the ?4 subunit (?4(*) nAChRs) was necessary and sufficient for activation of pVTA DAergic neurons: nicotine failed to activate pVTA DAergic neurons in ?4 knockout animals; in contrast, pVTA ?4(*) nAChRs were selectively activated by nicotine in mutant mice expressing agonist-hypersensitive ?4(*) nAChRs (Leu9'Ala mice). In addition, whole-cell currents induced by nicotine in DAergic neurons were mediated by ?4(*) nAChRs and were significantly larger in pVTA neurons than in aVTA neurons. Infusion of an ?6(*) nAChR antagonist into the VTA blocked activation of pVTA DAergic neurons in WT mice and in Leu9'Ala mice at nicotine doses, which only activate the mutant receptor indicating that ?4 and ?6 subunits coassemble to form functional receptors in these neurons. Thus, nicotine selectively activates DAergic neurons within the pVTA through ?4?6(*) nAChRs. These receptors represent novel targets for smoking-cessation therapies.
Project description:Nicotine is the primary psychoactive component of tobacco. Its reinforcing and addictive properties depend on nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) located within the mesolimbic axis originating in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). The roles and oligomeric assembly of subunit ?4- and subunit ?6-containing nAChRs in dopaminergic (DAergic) neurons are much debated. Using subunit-specific knockout mice and targeted lentiviral re-expression, we have determined the subunit dependence of intracranial nicotine self-administration (ICSA) into the VTA and the effects of nicotine on dopamine (DA) neuron excitability in the VTA and on DA transmission in the nucleus accumbens (NAc). We show that the ?4 subunit, but not the ?6 subunit, is necessary for ICSA and nicotine-induced bursting of VTA DAergic neurons, whereas subunits ?4 and ?6 together regulate the activity dependence of DA transmission in the NAc. These data suggest that ?4-dominated enhancement of burst firing in DA neurons, relayed by DA transmission in NAc that is gated by nAChRs containing ?4 and ?6 subunits, underlies nicotine self-administration and its long-term maintenance.
Project description:High-affinity, beta2-subunit-containing (beta2*) nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are essential for nicotine reinforcement; however, these nAChRs are found on both gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and dopaminergic (DA) neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and also on terminals of glutamatergic and cholinergic neurons projecting from the pedunculopontine tegmental area and the laterodorsal tegmental nucleus. Thus, systemic nicotine administration stimulates many different neuronal subtypes in various brain nuclei. To identify neurons in which nAChRs must be expressed to mediate effects of systemic nicotine, we investigated responses in mice with low-level, localized expression of beta2* nAChRs in the midbrain/VTA. Nicotine-induced GABA and DA release were partially rescued in striatal synaptosomes from transgenic mice compared with tissue from beta2 knockout mice. Nicotine-induced locomotor activation, but not place preference, was rescued in mice with low-level VTA expression, suggesting that low-level expression of beta2* nAChRs in DA neurons is not sufficient to support nicotine reward. In contrast to control mice, transgenic mice with low-level beta2* nAChR expression in the VTA showed no increase in overall levels of cyclic AMP response element-binding protein (CREB) but did show an increase in CREB phosphorylation in response to exposure to a nicotine-paired chamber. Thus, CREB activation in the absence of regulation of total CREB levels during place preference testing was not sufficient to support nicotine place preference in beta2 trangenic mice. This suggests that partial activation of high-affinity nAChRs in VTA might block the rewarding effects of nicotine, providing a potential mechanism for the ability of nicotinic partial agonists to aid in smoking cessation.
Project description:Diverse nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) subtypes containing different subunit combinations can be placed on nerve terminals or soma/dendrites in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). nAChR ?6 subunit message is abundant in the VTA, but ?6*-nAChR cellular localization, function, pharmacology, and roles in cholinergic modulation of dopaminergic (DA) neurons within the VTA are not well understood. Here, we report evidence for ?6?2*-nAChR expression on GABA neuronal boutons terminating on VTA DA neurons. ?-Conotoxin (?-Ctx) MII labeling coupled with immunocytochemical staining localizes putative ?6*-nAChRs to presynaptic GABAergic boutons on acutely dissociated, rat VTA DA neurons. Functionally, acetylcholine (ACh) induces increases in the frequency of bicuculline-, picrotoxin-, and 4-aminopyridine-sensitive miniature IPSCs (mIPSCs) mediated by GABA(A) receptors. These increases are abolished by ?6*-nAChR-selective ?-Ctx MII or ?-Ctx PIA (1 nm) but not by ?7 (10 nm methyllycaconitine) or ?4* (1 ?m dihydro-?-erythroidine)-nAChR-selective antagonists. ACh also fails to increase mIPSC frequency in VTA DA neurons prepared from nAChR ?2 knock-out mice. Moreover, ACh induces an ?-Ctx PIA-sensitive elevation in intraterminal Ca(2+) in synaptosomes prepared from the rat VTA. Subchronic exposure to 500 nm nicotine reduces ACh-induced GABA release onto the VTA DA neurons, as does 10 d of systemic nicotine exposure. Collectively, these results indicate that ?6?2*-nAChRs are located on presynaptic GABAergic boutons within the VTA and modulate GABA release onto DA neurons. These presynaptic ?6?2*-nAChRs likely play important roles in nicotinic modulation of DA neuronal activity.
Project description:Alcohol and nicotine are the most widely co-abused drugs. Both modify the activity of dopaminergic (DA) neurons of the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) and lead to an increase in DA release in the Nucleus Accumbens, thereby affecting the reward system. Evidences support the hypothesis that distinct nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), the molecular target of acetylcholine (ACh) and exogenous nicotine, are also in addition implicated in the response to alcohol. The precise molecular and neuronal substrates of this interaction are however not well understood. Here we used in vivo electrophysiology in the VTA to characterise acute and chronic interactions between nicotine and alcohol. Simultaneous injections of the two drugs enhanced their responses on VTA DA neuron firing and chronic exposure to nicotine increased alcohol-induced DA responses and alcohol intake. Then, we assessed the role of ?4?*?nAChRs, but not ?2?*?nAChRs, in mediating acute responses to alcohol using nAChR subtypes knockout mice (?2-/- and ?4-/- mice). Finally, we showed that nicotine-induced modifications of alcohol responses were absent in ?2-/- and ?4-/- mice, suggesting that nicotine triggers ?2* and ?4?*?nAChR-dependent neuroadaptations that subsequently modify the responses to alcohol and thus indicating these receptors as key mediators in the complex interactions between these two drugs.
Project description:Nicotine exerts its psychopharmacological effects by activating the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR), composed of alpha and/or beta subunits, giving rise to a diverse population of receptors with a distinct pharmacology. ?4-containing (?4*) nAChRs are located almost exclusively in the habenulo-interpeduncular pathway. We examined the role of ?4* nAChRs in the medial habenula (MHb) and the interpeduncular nucleus (IPN) in nicotine reinforcement using behavioral, electrophysiological, and molecular techniques in transgenic mice. Nicotine intravenous self-administration (IVSA) was lower in constitutive ?4 knockout (KO) mice at all doses tested (7.5, 15, 30, and 60??g/kg/infusion) compared with wild-type (WT) mice. In vivo microdialysis showed that ?4KO mice have higher extracellular dopamine (DA) levels in the nucleus accumbens than in WT mice, and exhibit a differential sensitivity to nicotine-induced DA outflow. Furthermore, electrophysiological recordings in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) demonstrated that DA neurons of ?4KO mice are more sensitive to lower doses of nicotine than that of WT mice. Re-expression of ?4* nAChRs in IPN neurons fully restored nicotine IVSA, and attenuated the increased sensitivity of VTA DA neurons to nicotine. These findings suggest that ?4* nAChRs in the IPN have a role in maintaining nicotine IVSA.
Project description:Understanding why the quit rate among smokers of menthol cigarettes is lower than non-menthol smokers requires identifying the neurons that are altered by nicotine, menthol, and acetylcholine. Dopaminergic (DA) neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) mediate the positive reinforcing effects of nicotine. Using mouse models, we show that menthol enhances nicotine-induced changes in nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) expressed on midbrain DA neurons. Menthol plus nicotine upregulates nAChR number and function on midbrain DA neurons more than nicotine alone. Menthol also enhances nicotine-induced changes in DA neuron excitability. In a conditioned place preference (CPP) assay, we observed that menthol plus nicotine produces greater reward-related behavior than nicotine alone. Our results connect changes in midbrain DA neurons to menthol-induced enhancements of nicotine reward-related behavior and may help explain how smokers of menthol cigarettes exhibit reduced cessation rates.
Project description:Dopamine (DA) neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) are thought to encode reward prediction errors (RPE) by comparing actual and expected rewards. In recent years, much work has been done to identify how the brain uses and computes this signal. While several lines of evidence suggest the interplay of the DA and the inhibitory interneurons in the VTA implements the RPE computation, it still remains unclear how the DA neurons learn key quantities, for example the amplitude and the timing of primary rewards during conditioning tasks. Furthermore, endogenous acetylcholine and exogenous nicotine, also likely affect these computations by acting on both VTA DA and GABA (? -aminobutyric acid) neurons via nicotinic-acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). To explore the potential circuit-level mechanisms for RPE computations during classical-conditioning tasks, we developed a minimal computational model of the VTA circuitry. The model was designed to account for several reward-related properties of VTA afferents and recent findings on VTA GABA neuron dynamics during conditioning. With our minimal model, we showed that the RPE can be learned by a two-speed process computing reward timing and magnitude. By including models of nAChR-mediated currents in the VTA DA-GABA circuit, we showed that nicotine should reduce the acetylcholine action on the VTA GABA neurons by receptor desensitization and potentially boost DA responses to reward-related signals in a non-trivial manner. Together, our results delineate the mechanisms by which RPE are computed in the brain, and suggest a hypothesis on nicotine-mediated effects on reward-related perception and decision-making.
Project description:Alpha6-containing nicotinic acetylcholine receptors are primarily found in neurons of the midbrain dopaminergic (DA) system, suggesting these receptors are potentially involved in drug reward and dependence. Here, we report a novel effect that cocaine directly inhibits ?6N/?3C?2?3-nAChR (?6*-nAChRs) function. Human ?6*-nAChRs were heterologously expressed within cells of the SH-EP1 cell line for functional characterization. Mechanically dissociated DA neurons from mouse ventral tegmental area (VTA) were used as a model of presynaptic ?6*-nAChR activation since this method preserves terminal boutons. Patch-clamp recordings in whole-cell configuration were used to measure ?6*-nAChR function as well as evaluate the effects of cocaine. In SH-EP1 cells containing heterologously expressed human ?6*-nAChRs, cocaine inhibits nicotine-induced inward currents in a concentration-dependent manner with an IC50 value of 30 ?M. Interestingly, in the presence of 30 ?M cocaine, the maximal current response of the nicotine concentration-response curve is reduced without changing nicotine's EC50 value, suggesting a noncompetitive mechanism. Furthermore, analysis of whole-cell current kinetics demonstrated that cocaine slows nAChR channel activation but accelerates whole-cell current decay time. Our findings demonstrate that cocaine-induced inhibition occurs solely with bath application, but not during intracellular administration, and this inhibition is not use-dependent. Additionally, in Xenopus oocytes, cocaine inhibits both ?6N/?3C?2?3-nAChRs and ?6M211L/?3IC?2?3-nCAhRs similarly, suggesting that cocaine may not act on the ?3 transmembrane domain of chimeric ?6N/?3C?2?3-nAChR. In mechanically isolated VTA DA neurons, cocaine abolishes ?6*-nAChR-mediated enhancement of spontaneous inhibitory postsynaptic currents (sIPSCs). Collectively, these studies provide the first evidence that cocaine directly inhibits the function of both heterologously and naturally expressed ?6*-nAChRs. These findings suggest that ?6*-nAChRs may provide a novel pharmacological target mediating the effects of cocaine and may underlie a novel mechanism of cocaine reward and dependence.
Project description:Evidence is emerging that neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in the mesolimbic dopamine (DA) system are involved in mediating the reinforcing effects of alcohol. Midbrain DA neurons express high levels of α6 subunit-containing nAChRs that modulate DA transmission, implicating their involvement in reward-related behaviours. This study assessed the role of α6-containing nAChRs in modulating alcohol reward using transgenic mice expressing mutant, hypersensitive α6 nAChR subunits (α6L9'S mice). α6L9'S mice and littermate controls were tested in three well-established models of alcohol reward: 24-h two-bottle choice drinking, drinking in the dark (DID), and conditioned place preference (CPP). Confocal microscopy and patch-clamp electrophysiology were used to show the localization and function of hypersensitive α6 subunit-containing nAChRs. Results indicate that female α6L9'S mice showed significantly higher alcohol intake at low concentrations of alcohol (3% and 6%) in the two-bottle choice procedure. Both male and female α6L9'S mice drank significantly more in the DID procedure and displayed an alcohol-induced place preference using a low dose of alcohol (0.5 g/kg) that was ineffective in littermate controls. Confocal microscopy showed that α6 subunit-containing nAChRs are selectively expressed on ventral tegmental area (VTA) DAergic, but not GABAergic neurons. Patch-clamp electrophysiology showed that VTA DA neurons of α6L9'S mice are hypersensitive to ACh. Collectively, these results suggest that α6L9'S mice are more sensitive to the rewarding effects of alcohol, and suggest that VTA α6 subunit-containing nAChRs modulate alcohol reward. Thus, α6 subunit-containing nAChRs may be a promising therapeutic target for treatment of alcohol use disorders.