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J Neurosci. 2010 Jul 21;30(29):9877-89. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2056-10.2010.

Cholinergic modulation of locomotion and striatal dopamine release is mediated by alpha6alpha4* nicotinic acetylcholine receptors.

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California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA.


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 alpha6* nAChRs, which show high ACh and nicotine sensitivity. To help identify nAChR subtypes that control DA transmission, we studied transgenic mice expressing hypersensitive alpha6(L9'S)* receptors. alpha6(L9'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 alpha6alpha4* pentamers, as alpha6(L9'S) mice lacking alpha4 subunits displayed essentially normal behavior. In alpha6(L9'S) mice, receptor numbers are normal, but loss of alpha4 subunits leads to fewer and less sensitive alpha6* receptors. Gain-of-function nicotine-stimulated DA release from striatal synaptosomes requires alpha4 subunits, implicating alpha6alpha4beta2* nAChRs in alpha6(L9'S) mouse behaviors. In brain slices, we applied electrochemical measurements to study control of DA release by alpha6(L9'S) nAChRs. Burst stimulation of DA fibers elicited increased DA release relative to single action potentials selectively in alpha6(L9'S), but not WT or alpha4KO/alpha6(L9'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 alpha6(L9'S) presynaptic terminals, as there was no difference in striatal DA receptor numbers or DA transporter levels or function in vitro. These results implicate alpha6alpha4beta2* 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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