Nicotine addiction and other forms of drug addiction continue to be significant public health problems in the United States and the rest of the world. Accumulated evidence indicates that brain nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are a heterogenous family of ion channels expressed in the various parts of the brain. A growing body of preclinical studies suggests that brain nAChRs are critical targets for the development of pharmacotherapies for nicotine and other drug addictions. In this review, we will discuss the nAChR subtypes, their function in response to endogenous brain transmitters, and how their functions are regulated in the presence of nicotine. Furthermore, we will discuss the role of nAChRs in mediating nicotine-induced addictive behavior in animal models. Additionally, we will provide an overview of the effects of nicotine and nicotinic compounds on the mesolimbic dopamine system, part of the reinforcement/reward circuitry of the brain, as an example of the neurochemical basis of nicotine addiction and other drug addictions. An appreciation of the complexity of nicotinic receptors and their regulation will be necessary for the development of nicotinic receptor modulators as potential pharmacotherapy for drug addiction.
Keywords: Drug addiction, nicotinic receptors, nicotine, alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, opiate, dopamine
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