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 identifynAChRsubtypes that control DA transmission, we studied transgenic mice expressing hypersensitive α6L9′S* receptors. α6L 9′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 α6L 9′S nAChRs. Burst stimulation of DA fibers elicited increased DA release relative to single action potentials selectively in α6L 9′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.
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