Nicotine dependence reveals distinct responses from neurons and their resident nicotinic receptors in medial habenula

Pei Yu Shih, J. Michael McIntosh, Ryan M. Drenan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are the molecular target of nicotine. nAChRs in the medial habenula (MHb) have recently been shown to play a role in nicotine dependence, but it is not clear which nAChR subtypes or MHb neuron types are most important. To identify MHb nAChRs and/or cell types that play a role in nicotine dependence, we studied these receptors and cells with brain slice electrophysiology using both acute and chronic nicotine application. Cells in the ventroinferior (MHbVI) and ventrolateral MHb (MHbVL) subregions expressed functional nAChRs with different pharmacology. Further, application of nicotine to cells in these subregions led to different action potential firing patterns. The latter result was correlated with a differing ability of nicotine to induce nAChR desensitization. Chronic nicotine caused functional upregulation of nAChRs selectively in MHbVI cells, but did not change nAChR function in MHbVL. Importantly, firing responses were also differentially altered in these subregions following chronic nicotine. MHbVI neurons treated chronically with nicotine exhibited enhanced basal pacemaker firing but a blunted nicotine-induced firing response. MHbVL neurons did not change their firing properties in response to chronic nicotine. Together, these results suggest that acute and chronic nicotine differentially affect nAChR function and output of cells in MHb subregions. Because the MHb extensively innervates the interpeduncular nucleus, an area critical for both affective and somatic signs of withdrawal, these results could reflect some of the neurophysiological changes thought to occur in the MHb to the interpeduncular nucleus circuit in human smokers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1035-1044
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular pharmacology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology


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