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1.  Multiple CNS nicotinic receptors mediate L-dopa-induced dyskinesias; studies with parkinsonian nicotinic receptor knockout miceΔ 
Biochemical pharmacology  2013;86(8):1153-1162.
Accumulating evidence supports the idea that drugs acting at nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) may be beneficial for Parkinson's disease, a neurodegenerative movement disorder characterized by a loss of nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons. Nicotine administration to parkinsonian animals protects against nigrostriatal damage. In addition, nicotine and nAChR drugs improve L-dopa-induced dyskinesias, a debilitating side effect of L-dopa therapy which remains the gold-standard treatment for Parkinson's disease. Nicotine exerts its antidyskinetic effect by interacting with multiple nAChRs. One approach to identify the subtypes specifically involved in L-dopa-induced dyskinesias is through the use of nAChR subunit null mutant mice. Previous work with β2 and α6 nAChR knockout mice has shown that α6β2* nAChRs were necessary for the development/maintenance of L-dopa-induced abnormal involuntary movements (AIMs). The present results in parkinsonian α4 nAChR knockout mice indicate that α4β2* nAChRs also play an essential role since nicotine did not reduce L-dopa-induced AIMs in such mice. Combined analyses of the data from α4 and α6 knockout mice suggest that the α6α4β2β3 subtype may be critical. In contrast to the studies with α4 and α6 knockout mice, nicotine treatment did reduce L-dopa-induced AIMs in parkinsonian α7 nAChR knockout mice. However, α7 nAChR subunit deletion alone increased baseline AIMs, suggesting that α7 receptors exert an inhibitory influence on L-dopa-induced AIMs. In conclusion, α6β2*, α4β2* and α7 nAChRs all modulate L-dopa-induced AIMs, although their mode of regulation varies. Thus drugs targeting one or multiple nAChRs may be optimal for reducing L-dopa-induced dyskinesias in Parkinson's disease.
PMCID: PMC3797228  PMID: 23831952
Dyskinesias; Nicotine; Nicotinic receptors; Parkinson’s disease; Striatum
2.  Nicotinic receptors as CNS targets for Parkinson’s disease 
Biochemical pharmacology  2007;74(8):1224-1234.
Parkinson’s disease is a debilitating neurodegenerative movement disorder characterized by damage to the nigrostriatal dopaminergic system. Current therapies are symptomatic only and may be accompanied by serious side effects. There is therefore a continual search for novel compounds for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease symptoms, as well as to reduce or halt disease progression. Nicotine administration has been reported to improve motor deficits that arise with nigrostriatal damage in parkinsonian animals and in Parkinson’s disease. In addition, nicotine protects against nigrostriatal damage in experimental models, findings that have led to the suggestion that the reduced incidence of Parkinson’s disease in smokers may be due to the nicotine in tobacco. Altogether, these observations suggest that nicotine treatment may be beneficial in Parkinson’s disease. Nicotine interacts with multiple nicotinic receptor (nAChR) subtypes in the peripheral and central nervous system, as well as in skeletal muscle. Work to identify the subtypes affected in Parkinson’s disease is therefore critical for the development of targeted therapies. Results show that striatal α6β2-containing nAChRs are particularly susceptible to nigrostriatal damage, with a decline in receptor levels that closely parallels losses in striatal dopamine. In contrast, α4β2-containing nAChRs are decreased to a much smaller extent under the same conditions. These observations suggest that development of nAChR agonists or antagonists targeted to α6β2-containing nAChRs may represent a particularly relevant target for Parkinson’s disease therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC2046219  PMID: 17631864
α-ConotoxinMII; Nicotine; Nicotinic; Parkinson’s disease; Nigrostriatal; Striatum
3.  Chronic nicotine treatment differentially regulates striatal α6α4β2* and α6(nonα4)β2* nAChR expression and function 
Molecular pharmacology  2008;74(3):844-853.
Nicotine treatment has long been associated with alterations in α4β2* nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) expression that modify dopaminergic function. However, the influence of chronic nicotine treatment on the α6β2* nAChR, a subtype specifically localized on dopaminergic neurons, is less clear. Here we used voltammetry, as well as receptor binding studies, to identify the effects of nicotine on striatal α6β2* nAChR function and expression. Chronic nicotine via drinking water enhanced non-burst and burst endogenous dopamine release from rat striatal slices. In control animals, α6β2* nAChR blockade with α-conotoxinMII (α-CtxMII) decreased release with non-burst stimulation but not with burst firing. These data in control animals suggest that varying stimulus frequencies differentially regulate α6β2* nAChR-evoked dopamine release. In contrast, in nicotine-treated rats, α6β2* nAChR blockade elicited a similar pattern of dopamine release with non-burst and burst firing. To elucidate the α6β2* nAChR subtypes altered with chronic nicotine treatment, we used the novel α-CtxMII analogue E11A, in combination with α4 nAChR knockout mice. 125I-α-CtxMII competition studies in striatum of knockout mice showed that nicotine treatment decreased the α6α4β2* subtype, but increased the α6(nonα4)β2* nAChR population. These data indicate that α6β2* nAChR-evoked dopamine release in nicotine-treated rats is mediated by the α6(nonα4)β2* nAChR subtype, and suggest that the α6α4β2* nAChR and/or α4β2* nAChR contribute to the differential effect of higher frequency stimulation on dopamine release under control conditions. Thus, α6β2* nAChR subtypes may represent important targets for smoking cessation therapies and neurological disorders involving these receptors such as Parkinson's disease.
PMCID: PMC2847502  PMID: 18583454
4.  Role for α6 nicotinic receptors in L-dopa-induced dyskinesias in parkinsonian mice 
Neuropharmacology  2012;63(3):450-459.
L-Dopa-induced dyskinesias are a serious side effect that develops in most Parkinson’s disease patients on dopamine replacement therapy. Few treatment options are available to manage dyskinesias; however, recent studies show that nicotine reduces these abnormal involuntary movements (AIMs) in parkinsonian animals by acting at nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). Identification of the nAChR subtypes that mediate this reduction in AIMs is important as it will help in the development of nAChR subtype selective drugs for their treatment. Here we investigate the role of α6β2* nAChRs, a subtype selectively present in the nigrostriatal pathway, using α6 nAChR subunit null mutant (α6(-/-)) mice. Wildtype and α6(-/-) mice were lesioned by unilateral injection of 6-hydroxydopamine (3 μg/μl) into the medial forebrain bundle. They were then given L-dopa (3 mg/kg) plus benserazide (15 mg/kg) 2-3 wk later. L-dopa-induced AIMs developed to a similar extent in α6(-/-) and wildtype mice. However, AIMs in α6(-/-) mice declined to ~50% of that in wildtype mice with continued L-dopa treatment. Nicotine treatment also decreased AIMs by ~50% in wildtype mice, although not in α6(-/-) mice. There were no effects on parkinsonism under any experimental condition. To conclude, the similar declines in L-dopa-induced AIMs in nicotine-treated wildtype mice and in α6(-/-) mice treated with and without nicotine indicate an essential role for α6β2* nAChRs in the maintenance of L-dopa-induced AIMs. These findings suggest that α6β2* nAChR drugs have potential for reducing L-dopa-induced dyskinesias in Parkinson’s disease.
PMCID: PMC3726309  PMID: 22579614
alpha6; dyskinesia; L-dopa; nicotine; 6-hydroxydopamine; Parkinson’s disease
5.  Focus on α4β2* and α6β2* nAChRs for Parkinson’s Disease Therapeutics 
L-dopa is one of the best treatments for the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. However, its use is limited by the fact that it provides only symptomatic relief and chronic therapy leads to dyskinesias. There is therefore a continual search for novel therapeutic approaches. Nicotine, a drug that acts at nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), has been shown to protect against nigrostriatal damage and reduce L-dopa-induced dyskinesias. NAChRs may therefore represent novel targets for Parkinson's disease management. Since there are multiple nAChRs throughout the body, it is important to understand the subtypes involved in striatal function to allow for the development of drugs with optimal beneficial effects. Here we discuss recent work from our laboratory which indicates that α6β2* and α4β2* nAChRs are key in regulating striatal dopaminergic function. Experiments in parkinsonian rats using cyclic voltammetry showed that both α6β2* and α4β2* nAChR-mediated evoked-dopamine release in striatal slices is affected by nigrostriatal damage. These subtypes also appear to be important for neuroprotection against nigrostriatal damage and the nicotine-mediated reduction in L-dopa-induced dyskinesias in parkinsonian animal models. Our combined findings indicate that α4β2* and α6β2* nAChRs may represent useful therapeutic targets for Parkinson’s disease.
PMCID: PMC3076673  PMID: 21499569
Dopamine; Dyskinesias; Neuroprotection; Nicotinic receptors; Parkinson's; disease nigrostriatal damage
6.  α4β2 nicotinic receptors play a role in the nAChR-mediated decline in L-dopa-induced dyskinesias in parkinsonian rats 
Neuropharmacology  2013;71:191-203.
L-dopa-induced dyskinesias are a serious long-term side effect of dopamine replacement therapy for Parkinson’s disease for which there are few treatment options. Our previous studies showed that nicotine decreased L-dopa-induced abnormal involuntary movements (AIMs). Subsequent work with knockout mice demonstrated that α6β2* nicotinic receptors (nAChRs) play a key role. The present experiments were done to determine if α4β2* nAChRs are also involved in L-dopa-induced dyskinesias. To approach this, we took advantage of the finding that α6β2* nAChRs are predominantly present on striatal dopaminergic nerve terminals, while a significant population of α4β2* nAChRs are located on other neurons. Thus, a severe dopaminergic lesion would cause a major loss in α6β2*, but not α4β2* nAChRs. Experiments were therefore done in which rats were unilaterally lesioned with 6-hydroxydopamine, at a dose that lead to severe nigrostriatal damage. The dopamine transporter, a dopamine nerve terminal marker, was decreased by >99%. This lesion also decreased striatal α6β2* nAChRs by 97%, while α4β2* nAChRs were reduced by only 12% compared to control. A series of β2* nAChR compounds, including TC-2696, TI-10165, TC-8831, TC-10600 and sazetidine reduced L-dopa-induced AIMs in these rats by 23–32%. TC-2696, TI-10165, TC-8831 were also tested for parkinsonism, with no effect on this behavior. Tolerance did not develop with up to 3 months of treatment. Since α4a5β2 nAChRs are also predominantly on striatal dopamine terminals, these data suggest that drugs targeting α4β2 nAChRs may reduce L-dopa-induced dyskinesias in late stage Parkinson’s disease.
PMCID: PMC3685407  PMID: 23583932
Dyskinesia; L-dopa; nicotine; nicotinic; Parkinson’s disease; sazetidine
7.  Role of alpha6 nicotinic receptors in CNS dopaminergic function; relevance to addiction and neurological disorders 
Biochemical Pharmacology  2011;82(8):873-882.
Although a relative newcomer to the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) family, substantial evidence suggests that α6 containing nAChRs play a key role in CNS function. This subtype is unique in its relatively restricted localization to the visual system and catecholaminergic pathways. These latter include the mesolimbic and nigrostriatal dopaminergic systems, which may account for the involvement of α6 containing nAChRs in the rewarding properties of nicotine and in movement. Here, we review the literature on the role of α6 containing nAChRs with a focus on the striatum and nucleus accumbens. This includes molecular, electrophysiological and behavioral studies in control and lesioned animal models, as well as in different genetic models. Converging evidence suggest that the major α6 containing nAChRs subtypes in the nigrostriatal and mesolimbic dopamine system are the α6β2β3 and α6α4β2β3 nAChR populations. They appear to have a dominant role in regulating dopamine release, with consequent effects on nAChR-modulated dopaminergic functions such as reinforcement and motor behavior. Altogether these data suggest that drugs directed to α6 containing nAChRs may be of benefit for the treatment of addiction and for neurological disorders with locomotor deficits such as Parkinson’s disease.
PMCID: PMC3264546  PMID: 21684266
Addiction; Cyclic voltammetry; Nucleus accumbens; Parkinson’s disease; Striatum
8.  Nicotinic receptor agonists decrease L-dopa-induced dyskinesias most effectively in partially lesioned parkinsonian rats 
Neuropharmacology  2011;60(6):861-868.
L-dopa therapy for Parkinson's disease leads to dyskinesias or abnormal involuntary movement (AIMs) for which there are few treatment options. Our previous data showed that nicotine administration reduced L-dopa-induced AIMs in parkinsonian monkeys and rats. To further understand how nicotine mediates its antidyskinetic action, we investigated the effect of nicotinic receptor (nAChR) agonists in unilateral 6-OHDA-lesioned rats with varying striatal damage. We first tested the drugs in L-dopa-treated rats with a near-complete striatal dopamine lesion (>99%), the standard rodent dyskinesia model. Varenicline, an agonist that interacts with multiple nAChRs, did not significantly reduce L-dopa-induced AIMs, while 5-iodo-A-85380 (A-85380), which acts selectively at α4β2* and α6β2* subtypes, reduced AIMs by 20%. By contrast, both varenicline and A-85380 reduced L-dopa-induced AIMs by 40–50% in rats with a partial striatal dopamine lesion. Neither drug worsened the antiparkinsonian action of L-dopa. The results show that selective nicotinic agonists reduce dyskinesias, and that they are optimally effective in animals with partial striatal dopamine damage. These findings suggest that presynaptic dopamine terminal α4β2* and α6β2* nAChRs are critical for nicotine’s antidyskinetic action. The current data have important implications for the use of nicotinic receptor-directed drugs for L-dopa-induced dyskinesias, a debilitating motor complication of dopamine replacement therapy for Parkinson’s disease.
PMCID: PMC3133531  PMID: 21232546
A-85380; dyskinesia; L-dopa; nicotine; nicotinic; varenicline
9.  The nicotine-mediated decline in L-dopa-induced dyskinesias is associated with a decrease in striatal dopamine release 
Journal of neurochemistry  2013;10.1111/jnc.12179.
L-dopa-induced dyskinesias (LIDs) are a side effect of Parkinson’s disease therapy that is thought to arise, at least in part, because of excessive dopaminergic activity. Thus, drugs that regulate dopaminergic tone may provide an approach to manage LIDs. Our previous studies showed that nicotine treatment reduced LIDs in parkinsonian animal models. The present work investigates whether nicotine may exert its beneficial effects by modulating presynaptic dopaminergic function. Rats were unilaterally lesioned by injection of 6-OHDA (2 × 3 ug per site) into the medial forebrain bundle to yield moderate parkinsonism. They were then implanted with minipumps containing vehicle or nicotine (2.0 mg/kg/d) and rendered dyskinetic with L-dopa (8 mg/kg plus 15 mg/kg benserazide). Lesioning alone decreased the striatal dopamine transporter, nicotinic receptor (nAChR) levels and nAChR-mediated 3H-dopamine release, consistent with previous results. Nicotine administration reduced L-dopa induced abnormal involuntary movements throughout the course of the study (4 months). Nicotine treatment led to declines in the striatal dopamine transporter, α6β2* nAChRs and various components of α6β2* and α4β2* nAChR-mediated release. L-dopa treatment had no effect. These data suggest that nicotine may improve LIDs in parkinsonian animal models by dampening striatal dopaminergic activity.
PMCID: PMC3778041  PMID: 23373725
LIDs; dopamine; nicotine; nicotinic receptors; nigrostriatal lesion
10.  Nicotine-mediated improvement in L-dopa-induced dyskinesias in MPTP-lesioned monkeys is dependent on dopamine nerve terminal function 
Neurobiology of disease  2012;50:30-41.
L-Dopa-induced dyskinesias (LIDs) are abnormal involuntary movements that develop with long term L-dopa therapy for Parkinson’s disease. Studies show that nicotine administration reduced LIDs in several parkinsonian animal models. The present work was done to understand the factors that regulate the nicotine-mediated reduction in LIDs in MPTP-lesioned nonhuman primates. To approach this, we used two groups of monkeys, one with mild-moderate and the other with more severe parkinsonism rendered dyskinetic using L-dopa. In mild-moderately parkinsonian monkeys, nicotine pretreatment (300 μg/ml via drinking water) prevented the development of LIDs by ~75%. This improvement was maintained when the nicotine dose was lowered to 50 μg/ml but was lost with nicotine removal. Nicotine re-exposure again decreased LIDs. By contrast, nicotine treatment did not reduce LIDs in monkeys with more severe parkinsonism. We next determined how nicotine’s ability to reduce LIDs correlated with lesion-induced changes in the striatal dopamine transporter and 3H-dopamine release in these two groups of monkeys. The striatal dopamine transporter was reduced to 54% and 28% of control in mild-moderately and more severely parkinsonian monkeys, respectively. However, basal, K+, α4β2* and α6β2* nAChR-evoked 3H-dopamine release were near control levels in striatum of mild-moderately parkinsonian monkeys. By contrast, these same release measures were reduced to a significantly greater extent in striatum of more severely parkinsonian monkeys. Thus, nicotine best improves LIDs in lesioned monkeys in which striatal dopamine transmission is still relatively intact. These data suggest that nicotine treatment would most effectively reduce LIDs in patients with mild to moderate Parkinson’s disease.
PMCID: PMC3685405  PMID: 23009753
Dopamine; L-dopa-induced dyskinesias; Nicotine; Nicotinic receptors; Parkinson’s disease
11.  A role for α4(non-α6)* nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in motor behavior 
Neuropharmacology  2013;73:19-30.
Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) containing either the α4 and/or α6 subunit are robustly expressed in dopaminergic nerve terminals in dorsal striatum where they are hypothesized to modulate dopamine (DA) release via acetylcholine (ACh) stimulation from cholinergic interneurons. However, pharmacological blockade of nAChRs or genetic deletion of individual nAChR subunits, including α4 and α6, in mice, yields little effect on motor behavior. Based on the putative role of nAChRs containing the α4 subunit in modulation of DA in dorsal striatum, we hypothesized that mice expressing a single point mutation in the α4 nAChR subunit, Leu9′Ala, that renders nAChRs hypersensitive to agonist, would exhibit exaggerated differences in motor behavior compared to WT mice. To gain insight into these differences, we challenged WT and Leu9′Ala mice with the α4β2 nAChR antagonist dihydro-β-erythroidine (DHβE). Interestingly, in Leu9′Ala mice, DHβE elicited a robust, reversible motor impairment characterized by hypolocomotion, akinesia, catalepsy, clasping, and tremor; whereas the antagonist had little effect in WT mice at all doses tested. Pre-injection of nicotine (0.1 mg/kg) blocked DHβE-induced motor impairment in Leu9′Ala mice confirming that the phenotype was mediated by antagonism of nAChRs. In addition, SKF 82958 (1 mg/kg) and amphetamine (5 mg/kg) prevented the motor phenotype. DHβE significantly activated more neurons within striatum and substantia nigra pars reticulata in Leu9′Ala mice compared to WT animals, suggesting activation of the indirect motor pathway as the circuit underlying motor dysfunction. ACh evoked DA release from Leu9′Ala striatal synaptosomes revealed agonist hypersensitivity only at α4(non-α6)* nAChRs. Similarly, α6 nAChR subunit deletion in an α4 hypersensitive nAChR (Leu9′Ala/α6KO) background had little effect on the DHβE-induced phenotype, suggesting an α4(non-α6)* nAChR-dependent mechanism. Together, these data indicate that α4(non-α6)* nAChR have an impact on motor output and may be potential molecular targets for treatment of disorders associated with motor impairment.
PMCID: PMC3784255  PMID: 23688922
nicotinic acetylcholine receptor; motor behavior; basal ganglia; dopamine
12.  Chronic nicotine selectively enhances α4β2* nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in the nigrostriatal dopamine pathway 
These electrophysiological experiments, in slices and intact animals, study the effects of in vivo chronic exposure to nicotine on functional α4β2* nAChRs in the nigrostriatal dopaminergic (DA) pathway. Recordings were made in wild-type and α4 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) subunit knockout mice. Chronic nicotine enhanced MLA-resistant, DHβE-sensitive nicotinic currents elicited by 3 – 1000 μM ACh in GABAergic neurons of the substantia nigra pars reticulata (SNr), but not in DA neurons of the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc). This enhancement leads to higher firing rates of SNr GABAergic neurons, and consequently to increased GABAergic inhibition of the SNc DA neurons. In the dorsal striatum, functional α4* nAChRs were not found on the neuronal somata; however nicotine acts via α4β2* nAChRs in the DA terminals to modulate glutamate release onto the medium spiny neurons (MSNs). Chronic nicotine also increased the number and/or function of these α4β2* nAChRs. These data suggest that in nigrostriatal DA pathway, chronic nicotine enhancement of α4β2* nAChRs displays selectivity in cell type, in nAChR subtype, as well as in cellular compartment. These selective events both augment inhibition of SNc DA neurons by SNr GABAergic neurons, and also temper the release of glutamate in the dorsal striatum. The effects may reduce the risk of excitotoxicity in SNc DA neurons, and may also counteract the increased effectiveness of corticostriatal glutamatergic inputs during degeneration of the DA system. These processes may contribute to the inverse correlation between tobacco use and Parkinson’s disease.
PMCID: PMC2787412  PMID: 19812319
α4 subunit; GABA; dopamine; substantia nigra; dorsal striatum; Parkinson’s disease
13.  Structural Basis for α-Conotoxin Potency and Selectivity 
Bioorganic & medicinal chemistry  2009;17(16):5894-5899.
Parkinson’s disease is a debilitating movement disorder characterized by altered levels of α6β2* nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) localized on presynaptic striatal catecholaminergic neurons. α-Conotoxin MII (α-CTx MII) is a highly useful ligand to probe α6β2 nAChRs structure and function, but it does not discriminate among closely related α6* nAChR subtypes. Modification of the α-CTx MII primary sequence led to the identification of α-CTx MII[E11A], an analog with 500–5300 fold discrimination between α6* subtypes found in both human and non-human primates. α-CTx MII[E11A] binds most strongly (femtomolar dissociation constant) to the high affinity α6 nAChR, a subtype that is selectively lost in Parkinson’s disease. Here we present the three-dimensional solution structure for α-CTx MII[E11A] as determined by two-dimensional 1H NMR spectroscopy to 0.13 +/− 0.09 Ǻ backbone and 0.45 +/− 0.08 Ǻ heavy atom root mean square deviation from mean structure. Structural comparisons suggest that the increased hydrophobic area of α-CTx MII[E11A] relative to other members of the α-CTx family may be responsible for its exceptionally high affinity for α6α4β2* nAChR as well as discrimination between α6β2 and α3β2 containing nAChRs. This finding may enable the rational design of novel peptide analogs that demonstrate enhanced specificity for α6* nAChR subunit interfaces and provide a means to better understand nAChR structural determinants that modulate brain dopamine levels and the pathophysiology of Parkinson’s disease.
PMCID: PMC2754775  PMID: 19628399
NMR solution structure; conotoxin; Parkinson’s disease; nicotinic acetylcholine receptor
14.  α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor-mediated neuroprotection against dopaminergic neuron loss in an MPTP mouse model via inhibition of astrocyte activation 
Although evidence suggests that the prevalence of Parkinson’s disease (PD) is lower in smokers than in non-smokers, the mechanisms of nicotine-induced neuroprotection remain unclear. Stimulation of the α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (α7-nAChR) seems to be a crucial mechanism underlying the anti-inflammatory potential of cholinergic agonists in immune cells, including astrocytes, and inhibition of astrocyte activation has been proposed as a novel strategy for the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders such as PD. The objective of the present study was to determine whether nicotine-induced neuroprotection in the 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) mouse model occurs via α7-nAChR-mediated inhibition of astrocytes.
Both in vivo (MPTP) and in vitro (1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium ion (MPP+) and lipopolysaccharide (LPS)) models of PD were used to investigate the role(s) of and possible mechanism(s) by which α7-nAChRs protect against dopaminergic neuron loss. Multiple experimental approaches, including behavioral tests, immunochemistry, and stereology experiments, astrocyte cell cultures, reverse transcriptase PCR, laser scanning confocal microscopy, tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α assays, and western blotting, were used to elucidate the mechanisms of the α7-nAChR-mediated neuroprotection.
Systemic administration of nicotine alleviated MPTP-induced behavioral symptoms, improved motor coordination, and protected against dopaminergic neuron loss and the activation of astrocytes and microglia in the substantia nigra. The protective effects of nicotine were abolished by administration of the α7-nAChR-selective antagonist methyllycaconitine (MLA). In primary cultured mouse astrocytes, pretreatment with nicotine suppressed MPP+-induced or LPS-induced astrocyte activation, as evidenced by both decreased production of TNF-α and inhibition of extracellular regulated kinase1/2 (Erk1/2) and p38 activation in astrocytes, and these effects were also reversed by MLA.
Taken together, our results suggest that α7-nAChR-mediated inhibition of astrocyte activation is an important mechanism underlying the protective effects of nicotine.
PMCID: PMC3416733  PMID: 22624500
α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor; Parkinson’s disease; Astrocyte; Neuroinflammation; Neuroprotection
15.  Nicotine as a potential neuroprotective agent for Parkinson’s disease 
Converging research efforts suggest that nicotine and other drugs that act at nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) may be beneficial in the management of Parkinson’s disease. This idea initially stemmed from the results of epidemiological studies which demonstrate that smoking is associated with a decreased incidence of Parkinson’s disease. The subsequent finding that nicotine administration protected against nigrostriatal damage in parkinsonian animal models led to the idea that nicotine in tobacco products may contribute to this apparent protective action. Nicotine most likely exerts its effects by interacting at nAChRs. Accumulating research indicates that multiple subtypes, including α4β2, α6β2 and/or α7 containing nAChRs, may be involved. Stimulation of nAChRs initially activates various intracellular transduction pathways primarily via alterations in calcium signaling. Consequent adaptations in immune responsiveness and trophic factors may ultimately mediate nicotine’s ability to reduce/halt the neuronal damage that arises in Parkinson’s disease. In addition to a potential neuroprotective action, nicotine also has anti-depressant properties and improves attention/cognition. Altogether, these findings suggest that nicotine and nAChR drugs represent promising therapeutic agents for the management of Parkinson’s disease.
PMCID: PMC3685410  PMID: 22693036
Neuroprotection; Nicotine; Nicotinic; Nigrostriatal damage; Parkinson’s disease
16.  Mysterious α6-containing nAChRs: function, pharmacology, and pathophysiology 
Acta Pharmacologica Sinica  2009;30(6):740-751.
Neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are the superfamily of ligand-gated ion channels and widely expressed throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems. nAChRs play crucial roles in modulating a wide range of higher cognitive functions by mediating presynaptic, postsynaptic, and extrasynaptic signaling. Thus far, nine alpha (α2-α10) and three beta (β2, β3, and β4) subunits have been identified in the CNS, and these subunits assemble to form a diversity of functional nAChRs. Although α4β2- and α7-nAChRs are the two major functional nAChR types in the CNS, α6*-nAChRs are abundantly expressed in the midbrain dopaminergic (DAergic) system, including mesocorticolimbic and nigrostriatal pathways, and particularly present in presynaptic nerve terminals. Recently, functional and pharmacological profiles of α6*-nAChRs have been assessed with the use of α6 subunit blockers such as α-conotoxin MII and PIA, and also by using α6 subunit knockout mice. By modulating DA release in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) and modulating GABA release onto DAergic neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), α6*-nAChRs may play important roles in the mediation of nicotine reward and addiction. Furthermore, α6*-nAChRs in the nigrostriatal DAergic system may be promising targets for selective preventative treatment of Parkinson's disease (PD). Thus, α6*-nAChRs may hold promise for future clinical treatment of human disorders, such as nicotine addiction and PD. In this review, we mainly focus on the recent advances in the understanding of α6*-nAChR function, pharmacology and pathophysiology.
PMCID: PMC4085655  PMID: 19498417
alpha 6-nicotinic acetylcholine receptor; dopaminergic neuron; α-conotoxin; nicotine reinforcement; Parkinson's disease
17.  Regulation of Synaptic Transmission and Plasticity by Neuronal Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors 
Biochemical pharmacology  2007;74(8):1120-1133.
Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are widely expressed throughout the central nervous system and participate in a variety of physiological functions. Recent advances have revealed roles of nAChRs in the regulation of synaptic transmission and synaptic plasticity, particularly in the hippocampus and midbrain dopamine centers. In general, activation of nAChRs causes membrane depolarization and directly and indirectly increases the intracellular calcium concentration. Thus, when nAChRs are expressed on presynaptic membranes their activation generally increases the probability of neurotransmitter release. When expressed on postsynaptic membranes, nAChR-initiated calcium signals and depolarization activate intracellular signaling mechanisms and gene transcription. Together, the presynaptic and postsynaptic effects of nAChRs generate and facilitate the induction of long-term changes in synaptic transmission. The direction of hippocampal nAChR-mediated synaptic plasticity –either potentiation or depression – depends on the timing of nAChR activation relative to coincident presynaptic and postsynaptic electrical activity, and also depends on the location of cholinergic stimulation within the local network. Therapeutic activation of nAChRs may prove efficacious in the treatment of neuropathologies where synaptic transmission is compromised, as in Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
PMCID: PMC2047292  PMID: 17689497
Nicotine; Synaptic Plasticity; LTP; Development; Hippocampus; Ventral Tegmental Area
18.  Paraquat exposure reduces nicotinic receptor-evoked dopamine release in monkey striatum 
Paraquat, an herbicide widely used in the agricultural industry, has been associated with lung, liver, and kidney toxicity in humans. In addition, it is linked to an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease. For this reason, we had previously investigated the effects of paraquat in mice and showed that it influenced striatal nicotinic receptor (nAChR) expression but not nAChR-mediated dopaminergic function. Since non-human primates are evolutionarily closer to humans and may better model the effects of pesticide exposure in man, we examined the effects of paraquat on striatal nAChR function and expression in monkeys. Monkeys were administered saline or paraquat once weekly for six weeks, after which nAChR levels and receptor-evoked 3H-dopamine (3H-DA) release were measured in striatum. The functional studies showed that paraquat exposure attenuated dopamine (DA) release evoked by α3/α6β2* nAChRs, a subtype present only on striatal dopaminergic terminals, with no decline in release mediated by α4β2* nAChRs, present on both DA terminals and striatal neurons. Paraquat treatment decreased α4β2* but not α3/α6β2* nAChR expression. The differential effects of paraquat on nAChR expression and receptor-evoked 3H-DA release emphasize the importance of evaluating changes in functional measures. The finding that paraquat treatment has a negative impact on striatal nAChR-mediated dopaminergic activity in monkeys but not mice indicates the need for determining the effects of pesticides in higher species.
PMCID: PMC2657317  PMID: 18606871
19.  Targeting nicotinic receptors for Parkinson's disease therapy 
A promising target for improved therapeutics in Parkinson's disease is the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR). nAChRs are widely distributed throughout the brain, including the nigrostriatal system, and exert important modulatory effects on numerous behaviors. Accumulating evidence suggests that drugs such as nicotine that act at these sites may be of benefit for Parkinson's disease treatment. Recent work indicates that a potential novel therapeutic application is the use of nicotine to reduce levodopa-induced dyskinesias, a side effect of dopamine replacement therapy for Parkinson's disease. Several clinical trials also report that nicotine may diminish disease symptoms. Not only may nAChR drugs provide symptomatic improvement, but they may also attenuate the neurodegenerative process itself. This latter idea is supported by epidemiological studies which consistently demonstrate a ~50% reduced incidence of Parkinson's disease in smokers. Experimental work in parkinsonian animal models suggests that nicotine in tobacco may contribute to this protection. These combined findings suggest that nicotine and nAChR drugs offer the possibility of improved therapeutics for Parkinson's disease.
PMCID: PMC3748273  PMID: 21838678
Nicotine; nicotinic receptors; levodopa; dyskinesias; neuroprotection; parkinsonian; Parkinson's disease
20.  Cotinine Selectively Activates a Subpopulation of α3/α6β2* Nicotinic Receptors in Monkey Striatum 
The nicotine metabolite cotinine is an abundant long-lived bio-active compound that may contribute to the overall physiological effects of tobacco use. Although its mechanism of action in the central nervous system has not been extensively investigated, cotinine is known to evoke dopamine release in the nigrostriatal pathway through an interaction at nicotinic receptors (nAChRs). Because considerable evidence now demonstrates the presence of multiple nAChRs in the striatum, the present experiments were done to determine the subtypes through which cotinine exerts its effects in monkeys, a species that expresses similar densities of striatal α4β2* (nAChR containing the α4 and β2 subunits, but not α3 or α6) and α3/α6β2* (nAChR composed of the α3 or α6 subunits and β2) nAChRs. Competition binding studies showed that cotinine interacts with both α4β2* and α3/α6β2* nAChR subtypes in the caudate, with cotinine IC50 values for inhibition of 5-[125I]iodo-3-[2(S)-azetinylmethoxy]pyridine-2HCl ([125I]A-85380) and 125I-α-conotoxinMII binding in the micromolar range. This interaction at the receptor level is of functional significance because cotinine stimulated both α4β2* and α3/α6β2* nAChR [3H]dopamine release from caudate synaptosomes. Our results unexpectedly showed that nicotine evokes [3H]dopamine release from two α3/α6β2* nAChR populations, one of which was sensitive to cotinine and the other was not. This cotinine-insensitive subtype was only present in the medial caudate and was preferentially lost with 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine-induced nigrostriatal damage. In contrast, cotinine and nicotine elicited equivalent levels of α4β2* nAChR-mediated dopamine release. These data demonstrate that cotinine functionally discriminates between two α3/α6β2* nAChRs in monkey striatum, with the cotinine-insensitive α3/α6β2* nAChR preferentially vulnerable to nigrostriatal damage.
PMCID: PMC3134143  PMID: 18305015
21.  Cloning and Spatiotemporal Expression of Zebrafish Neuronal Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Alpha 6 and Alpha 4 Subunit RNAs 
Acetylcholine plays an important role in regulation of nervous system development and function. We are developing zebrafish (Danio rerio) as a model system to study the role of specific neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) subtypes in development and the effects of nicotine on the developing vertebrate nervous system. We previously characterized the expression of several zebrafish nAChR subunits. To further develop the zebrafish model, here we report a study on the molecular characterization of two additional nAChR subunit genes, designated chrna6 and chrna4. Both zebrafish nAChRs have a high degree of sequence identity to nAChRs expressed in a variety of mammalian species. Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction was used to show that both nAChR subunit RNAs were expressed early in zebrafish development, with the chrna4 transcript present at 3 hours postfertilization (hpf) and the chrna6 RNA present at 10 hpf. In situ hybridization was used to localize chrna6 and chrna4 RNA expression in 24, 48, 72, and 96 hpf zebrafish. The chrna6 and chrna4 RNAs were each expressed in a unique pattern, which changed during development. At various ages, chrna6 was expressed in Rohon-Beard sensory neurons, trigeminal ganglion, retina, and the pineal gland. Most notably, chrna6 was expressed in catecholaminergic neurons in the midbrain, but was also present in noncatecholaminergic cells in both midbrain and hindbrain. The expression of chrna6 RNA in catecholaminergic cells supports the use of zebrafish as a valid model system to better understand the molecular basis of cholinergic regulation of dopaminergic signaling and the role of α6-containing nAChRs in Parkinson’s disease. The most notable chrna4 expression was in neural crest cells at 24 hpf and reticulospinal neurons in hindbrain at 48 hpf. chrna4 RNA exhibited a widespread and robust expression pattern in the midbrain in 72 hpf and 96 hpf zebrafish.
PMCID: PMC4267763  PMID: 19301390
cholinergic; RNA; development; RT-PCR; In situ hybridization; zebrafish
22.  Acetylcholine receptors in the retinas of the α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor knockout mouse 
Molecular Vision  2014;20:1328-1356.
The α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) is widely expressed in the nervous system, including in the inner retinal neurons in all species studied to date. Although reductions in the expression of α7 nAChRs are thought to contribute to the memory and visual deficits reported in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and schizophrenia , the α7 nAChR knockout (KO) mouse is viable and has only slight visual dysfunction. The absence of a major phenotypic abnormality may be attributable to developmental mechanisms that serve to compensate for α7 nAChR loss. We hypothesized that the upregulation of genes encoding other nAChR subunits or muscarinic acetylcholine receptor (mAChR) subtypes during development partially accounts for the absence of major deficiencies in the α7 nAChR KO mouse. The purpose of this study was to determine whether the deletion of the α7 nAChR subunit in a mouse model resulted in changes in the regulation of other cholinergic receptors or other ion channels in an α7 nAChR KO mouse when compared to a wild-type (WT) mouse.
To examine gene expression changes, we employed a quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) using whole retina RNA extracts as well as RNA extracted from selected regions of the retina. These extracts were collected using laser capture microdissection (LCM). The presence of acetylcholine receptor (AChR) subunit and subtype proteins was determined via western blotting. To determine any differences in the number and distribution of choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) amacrine cells, we employed wholemount and vertical immunohistochemistry (IHC) and cell counting. Additionally, in both WT and α7 nAChR KO mouse retinas, the distribution of the nAChR subunit and mAChR subtype proteins were determined via IHC for those KO mice that experienced mRNA changes.
In the whole retina, there was a statistically significant upregulation of α2, α9, α10, β4, nAChR subunit, and m1 and m4 mAChR subtype transcripts in the α7 nAChR KO mice. However, the retinal layers showed complex patterns of transcript expression. In the ganglion cell layer (GCL), m2 and m4 mAChR subtype transcripts were significantly upregulated, while β3 and β4 nAChR subunit transcripts were significantly downregulated. In the inner portion of the inner nuclear layer (iINL), α2, α9, β4, nAChR subunit, and m3 and m4 mAChR subtype transcripts were significantly downregulated. In the outer portion of the inner nuclear layer (oINL), β2, β4, and m4 AChR subunit transcripts were significantly upregulated. Western blot experiments confirmed the protein expression of α3–α5 and α9-containing nAChR subunits and m1–m2 mAChR subtypes in mouse retinas. IHC results supported many of the mRNA changes observed. Finally, this is the first report of α9 and α10 nAChR subunit expressions in the retina of any species.
Rather than a simple upregulation of a single AChR subunit or subtype, the absence of the α7 nAChR in the KO mice was associated with complex layer-specific changes in the expression of AChR subunits and subtypes.
PMCID: PMC4169779  PMID: 25352741
23.  The α7-nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor and MMP-2/-9 Pathway Mediate the Proangiogenic Effect of Nicotine in Human Retinal Endothelial Cells 
This study shows for the first time that the activation of α7-nAChRs is essential for nicotine-induced retinal angiogenesis. Therefore, α7-nAChR antagonists may be useful for treatment of retinopathies.
Nicotine, the active component of cigarette smoke, has been found to stimulate angiogenesis in several experimental systems. In this study, the Matrigel duplex assay (Matrigel; BD Biosciences, Franklin Lakes, NJ) and the rat retinal explant assay were used to explore the molecular mechanisms underlying the proangiogenic effects of nicotine in endothelial cells.
Western blot analysis was performed to determine the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) subtypes expressed on primary human retinal microvascular endothelial cells (HRMECs). The angiogenic effect of nicotine in the retina was evaluated with the duplex assay. The results obtained from the assay were confirmed by the rat retinal explant angiogenesis assay. ELISAs were used to measure MMP-2, -9, and -13 levels in HRMEC culture supernatants. The role of α7-nAChRs in nicotine-induced angiogenesis was examined by siRNA techniques.
Nicotine-induced angiogenesis required nAChR function and was associated with the upregulation of MMP-2 and -9 in HRMECs. Specifically, α7-nAChRs mediated the stimulatory effects of nicotine on retinal angiogenesis and MMP levels. Treatment of HRMECs with α7-nAChR antagonists ablated nicotine-induced angiogenesis. The inhibitory actions of α7-nAChR antagonists correlated with the suppression of MMP-2 and -9 levels in HRMECs.
The α7-nAChR is vital for the proangiogenic activity of nicotine. The α7-nAChRs expressed on HRMECs upregulate levels of MMP-2 and -9, which stimulate retinal angiogenesis. The data also suggest that α7-nAChR antagonists could be useful agents for the therapy of angiogenesis-related retinal diseases.
PMCID: PMC3175965  PMID: 20554619
24.  Subtypes of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in nicotine reward, dependence, and withdrawal: Evidence from genetically modified mice 
Behavioural pharmacology  2008;19(5-6):461-484.
Neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) can regulate the activity of many neurotransmitter pathways throughout the central nervous system and are considered important modulators of cognition and emotion. nAChRs also are the primary site of action in the brain for nicotine, the major addictive component of tobacco smoke. nAChRs consist of five membrane-spanning subunits (α and β isoforms) that can associate in various combinations to form functional nAChR ion channels. Because of a dearth of nAChR subtype-selective ligands, the precise subunit composition of the nAChRs that regulate the rewarding effects of nicotine and the development of nicotine dependence are unknown. However, the advent of mice with genetic nAChR subunit modifications has provided a useful experimental approach to assess the contribution of individual subunits in vivo. Here we review data generated from nAChR subunit knockout and genetically modified mice supporting a role for discrete nAChR subunits in nicotine reinforcement and dependence processes. Importantly, the rates of tobacco dependence are far higher in patients suffering from comorbid psychiatric illnesses compared with the general population, which may at least partly reflect disease-associated alterations in nAChR signaling. An understanding of the role of nAChRs in psychiatric disorders associated with high rates of tobacco addiction, therefore, may reveal novel insights into mechanisms of nicotine dependence. Thus, we also briefly review data generated from genetically modified mice to support a role for discrete nAChR subunits in anxiety disorders, depression, and schizophrenia.
PMCID: PMC2669417  PMID: 18690103
Nicotine; nicotinic acetylcholine receptor; knockout; acetylcholine; addiction; anxiety; depression; schizophrenia
25.  Cholinergic Modulation of Locomotion and Striatal Dopamine Release is Mediated by α6α4* Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2010;30(29):9877-9889.
Dopamine (DA) release in striatum is governed by firing rates of midbrain DA neurons, striatal cholinergic tone, and nicotinic ACh receptors (nAChRs) on DA presynaptic terminals. DA neurons selectively express α6* nAChRs, which show high ACh and nicotine sensitivity. To help identify nAChR subtypes that control DA transmission, we studied transgenic mice expressing hypersensitive α6L9′S* receptors. α6L9′S mice are hyperactive, travel greater distance, exhibit increased ambulatory behaviors such as walking, turning, and rearing, and show decreased pausing, hanging, drinking, and grooming. These effects were mediated by α6α4* pentamers, as α6L9′S mice lacking α4 subunits displayed essentially normal behavior. In α6L9′S mice, receptor numbers are normal, but loss of α4 subunits leads to fewer and less sensitive α6* receptors. Gain-of-function nicotine-stimulated DA release from striatal synaptosomes requires α4 subunits, implicating α6α4β2* nAChRs in α6L9′S mouse behaviors. In brain slices, we applied electrochemical measurements to study control of DA release by α6L9′S nAChRs. Burst stimulation of DA fibers elicited increased DA release relative to single action potentials selectively in α6L9′S, but not WT or α4KO/α6L9′S, mice. Thus, increased nAChR activity, like decreased activity, leads to enhanced extracellular DA release during phasic firing. Bursts may directly enhance DA release from α6L9′S presynaptic terminals, as there was no difference in striatal DA receptor numbers or DA transporter levels or function in vitro. These results implicate α6α4β2* nAChRs in cholinergic control of DA transmission, and strongly suggest that these receptors are candidate drug targets for disorders involving the DA system.
PMCID: PMC3390922  PMID: 20660270
nicotinic; nicotine; dopamine; striatum; nucleus accumbens; midbrain; substantia nigra; ventral tegmental area; addiction; Parkinson's disease; hyperactivity; acetylcholine; cholinergic; locomotion; motor; reward

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