Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR) of the α6β2* subtype (where *indicates the possible presence of additional subunits) are prominently expressed on dopaminergic neurons. Because of this, their role in tobacco use and nicotine dependence has received much attention. Previous studies have demonstrated that α6β2*-nAChR are down-regulated following chronic nicotine exposure (unlike other subtypes that have been investigated – most prominently α4β2* nAChR). This study examines, for the first time, effects across a comprehensive chronic nicotine dose range. Chronic nicotine dose–responses and quantitative ligand-binding autoradiography were used to define nicotine sensitivity of changes in α4β2*-nAChR and α6β2*-nAChR expression. α6β2*-nAChR down-regulation by chronic nicotine exposure in dopaminergic and optic-tract nuclei was ≈three-fold more sensitive than up-regulation of α4β2*-nAChR. In contrast, nAChR-mediated [3H]-dopamine release from dopamine-terminal region synaptosomal preparations changed only in response to chronic treatment with high nicotine doses, whereas dopaminergic parameters (transporter expression and activity, dopamine receptor expression) were largely unchanged. Functional measures in olfactory tubercle preparations were made for the first time; both nAChR expression levels and nAChR-mediated functional measures changed differently between striatum and olfactory tubercles. These results show that functional changes measured using synaptosomal [3H]-DA release are primarily owing to changes in nAChR, rather than in dopaminergic, function.
This study examined dose–response relationships for murine α6β2*-nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) down-regulation by chronic nicotine treatment. The ID50 value for α6β2* down-regulation (35 nM) is ≈ 3x lower than the ED50 value for α4β2* nAChR up-regulation (95 nM), both well within the range reached by human smokers. Chronic nicotine treatment altered α6β2*- and α4β2*-nAChR-mediated [3H]-dopamine release from striatal and olfactory tubercle synaptosomes, but dopaminergic parameters were largely unaffected. We conclude that functional changes are primarily driven by altered nAChR activity.