Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program



Psychiatry; Tapper Lab

First Thesis Advisor

Andrew R. Tapper, PhD


Nicotinic Receptors, Dopaminergic Neurons, Dopamine Agents, Motor Activity, Substance-Related Disorders, Anesthetic Hypnosis


Dissertations, UMMS; Receptors, Nicotinic; Dopaminergic Neurons; Dopamine Agents; Motor Activity; Substance-Related Disorders; Hypnosis, Anesthetic


Neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are ligand-gated cation channels that most notably influence dopamine (DA) release. In this thesis, I examine the role of nAChRs in mediating DA-related behaviors such as movement and drug dependence. To accomplish this, I utilized a “gain-offunction” knock-in mouse (the Leu9’Ala line) containing agonist-hypersensitive α4* nAChRs (* indicates other nAChR subunits in addition to α4 are within the receptor complex) that renders receptors 50-fold more sensitive to nicotine and acetylcholine than wild-type (WT) receptors. I found that DHβE, a selective antagonist for α4β2* nAChRs, induced reversible and robust motor dysfunction characterized by hypolocomotion, akinesia, catalepsy, tremor, and clasping in Leu9’Ala but not WT mice. Reversal of the phenotype was achieved by targeting dopamine signaling. Blockade of mutant α4* nAChRs elicited activation of brain regions in the basal ganglia including dorsal striatum and substantia nigra pars reticulata indicated by c-Fos immunoreactivity. These data indicate that blocking α4* nAChRs in Leu9’Ala mice activates the indirect motor pathway resulting in a motor deficit. We also determined that α4* nAChRs involved in motor behaviors did not contain the α6 subunit, a nAChR subunit highly expressed in DAergic neurons suggesting that different nAChR subtypes modulating striatal DA release have separate functions in motor output. Conditioned place aversion and hypolocomotion, behaviors elicited during nicotine withdrawal, were also induced by DHβE in nicotine-naïve Leu9’Ala but not WT mice. Together these data suggest that DHβE globally reduces DA release in the CNS. In a separate project, I determined that α4* and α6* nAChRs modulate drug-induced hypnosis. Activation of nAChRs increased sensitivity to ketamine-induced hypnosis; whereas antagonizing nAChRs had the opposite effect. Additionally, α4 knockout (KO) mice were less sensitive to the hypnotic effects of ketamine, but α6 KO were more sensitive. High doses of ethanol induce an anesthesia-like state characterized by immobility, analgesia, and hypnosis. Testing the effects of ethanol hypnosis in α4 KO revealed that α4* nAChR do not play a large role in the acute effects of ethanol-induced hypnosis, but are involved in tolerance to this ethanol-induced behavior. The mechanisms of anesthetic-induced hypnosis are still largely unclear, despite the wide use of anesthesia. Future work on these receptors and their involvement in the anesthetic response will help to define a mechanism for hypnosis and improve the use of anesthetic drugs.



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