Nicotine, the major psychoactive agent present in tobacco, acts as a potent addictive drug both in humans and laboratory animals, whose locomotor activity is also stimulated. A large body of evidence indicates that the locomotor activation and the reinforcing effects of nicotine may be related to its stimulatory effects on the mesolimbic dopaminergic function. Thus, it is now well established that nicotine can increase in vivo DA outflow in the nucleus accumbens and the corpus striatum. The stimulatory effect of nicotine on DA release most probably results from its ability to excite the neuronal firing rate and to increase the bursting activity of DA neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc) and the ventral tegmental area (VTA), and from its stimulatory action on DA terminals in the corpus striatum and the nucleus accumbens. The neurochemical data are consistent with neuroanatomical findings showing the presence of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in the SNc, the VTA, and in projection areas of the central dopaminergic system such as the corpus striatum and the nucleus accumbens. Several lines of evidence indicate that the reinforcing properties of drugs of abuse, including nicotine, can be affected by a number of transmitter systems which may act by modulating central dopaminergic function. In this paper, the neurobiological mechanisms underlying nicotine addiction will be reviewed, and the possible strategies for new pharmacological treatments of nicotine dependence will be examined.
Keywords: nACh receptor subtypes, dorsal raphe nucleus, Fos-like immunoreactivity, 5-HT release, GABAergic input