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J Neurophysiol. 2011 Aug;106(2):801-8. doi: 10.1152/jn.00575.2010. Epub 2011 May 18.

Nicotinic excitation of serotonergic projections from dorsal raphe to the nucleus accumbens.

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Department of Anesthesia & Critical Care, University of Chicago, 5841 South Maryland Ave., MC 4028, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


Tobacco use is a major public health problem, and although many smokers report that they want to quit, only a small percentage succeed. Side effects associated with nicotine withdrawal, including depression, anxiety, and restlessness, certainly contribute to the low success rate. The dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) is a serotonergic center with many functions, including control of mood and emotional state. We investigated the effect of nicotine on DRN neurons that project to the nucleus accumbens (NAc), an area involved in reward-related behaviors. Using a retrograde labeling method, we found that 75% of DRN-NAc projection neurons are serotonergic. In coronal slices that include the DRN, whole cell recordings were conducted on neurons identified by fluorescent backlabeling from NAc or randomly selected within the nucleus. Nicotine increased action potential firing rates in a subset of DRN neurons. Voltage-clamp recording revealed nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR)-mediated inward currents that contribute to the nicotine-induced excitation. Nicotinic receptors also indirectly affect excitability by modulating synaptic inputs to these neurons. Nicotine enhanced excitatory glutamatergic inputs to a subset of DRN-NAc projection neurons, while inhibitory γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic inputs were modulated either positively or negatively in a subset of these neurons. The net effect of nAChR activation is enhancement of serotonergic output from DRN to the NAc, which may contribute to the effects of nicotine on mood and affect.

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