Nicotinic receptors are widely expressed in the brain, modulating many neuronal processes and contributing to neuropathologies such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy. We have found that a mutation in one of the receptor subunits alters the response to natural reward stimuli. Because the same neural pathways are involved in natural rewards (such as food, sex and exercise), and addictive processes in response to drugs of abuse, it is possible that these receptors are central to the development of addictive processes. In this study we will use genetically altered mice to determine whether nicotinic receptors play a significant role in natural reward, and map the specific brain circuits where these receptors may exert their actions. These studies will give insight into the biological underpinnings of reward mechanisms in the brain and may provide new targets for the treatment of addictive behaviors.
Anis Contractor, Ph.D.