Habenula cholinergic neurons regulate anxiety during nicotine withdrawal via nicotinic acetylcholine receptors

UMMS Affiliation

Brudnick Neuropsychiatric Research Institute, Department of Psychiatry; Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Program in Neuroscience; Tapper Lab

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Neuroscience and Neurobiology | Psychiatry | Psychiatry and Psychology | Substance Abuse and Addiction


Cholinergic neurons in the medial habenula (MHb) modulate anxiety during nicotine withdrawal although the molecular neuroadaptation(s) within the MHb that induce affective behaviors during nicotine cessation is largely unknown. MHb cholinergic neurons are unique in that they robustly express neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), although their behavioral role as autoreceptors in these neurons has not been described. To test the hypothesis that nAChR signaling in MHb cholinergic neurons could modulate anxiety, we expressed novel "gain of function" nAChR subunits selectively in MHb cholinergic neurons of adult mice. Mice expressing these mutant nAChRs exhibited increased anxiety-like behavior that was alleviated by blockade with a nAChR antagonist. To test the hypothesis that anxiety induced by nicotine withdrawal may be mediated by increased MHb nicotinic receptor signaling, we infused nAChR subtype selective antagonists into the MHb of nicotine naive and withdrawn mice. While antagonists had little effect on nicotine naive mice, blocking alpha4beta2 or alpha6beta2, but not alpha3beta4 nAChRs in the MHb alleviated anxiety in mice undergoing nicotine withdrawal. Consistent with behavioral results, there was increased functional expression of nAChRs containing the alpha6 subunit in MHb neurons that also expressed the alpha4 subunit. Together, these data indicate that MHb cholinergic neurons regulate nicotine withdrawal-induced anxiety via increased signaling through nicotinic receptors containing the alpha6 subunit and point toward nAChRs in MHb cholinergic neurons as molecular targets for smoking cessation therapeutics.


Acetylcholine, Anxiety, Habenula, Nicotine, Withdrawal

DOI of Published Version



Neuropharmacology. 2016 Aug;107:294-304. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2016.03.039. Link to article on publisher's siteEpub 2016 Mar 26.

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