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Genes Brain Behav. 2014 Feb;13(2):213-25. doi: 10.1111/gbb.12113. Epub 2013 Dec 26.

Genetic variation within the Chrna7 gene modulates nicotine reward-like phenotypes in mice.

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Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA.


Mortality from tobacco smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in the world, yet current cessation therapies are only modestly successful, suggesting new molecular targets are needed. Genetic analysis of gene expression and behavior identified Chrna7 as potentially modulating nicotine place conditioning in the BXD panel of inbred mice. We used gene targeting and pharmacological tools to confirm the role of Chrna7 in nicotine conditioned place preference (CPP). To identify molecular events downstream of Chrna7 that may modulate nicotine preference, we performed microarray analysis of α7 knock-out (KO) and wild-type (WT) nucleus accumbens (NAc) tissue, followed by confirmation with quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and immunoblotting. In the BXD panel, we found a putative cis expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL) for Chrna7 in NAc that correlated inversely to nicotine CPP. We observed that gain-of-function α7 mice did not display nicotine preference at any dose tested, whereas conversely, α7 KO mice demonstrated nicotine place preference at a dose below that routinely required to produce preference. In B6 mice, the α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR)-selective agonist, PHA-543613, dose-dependently blocked nicotine CPP, which was restored using the α7 nAChR-selective antagonist, methyllycaconitine citrate (MLA). Our genomic studies implicated a messenger RNA (mRNA) co-expression network regulated by Chrna7 in NAc. Mice lacking Chrna7 demonstrate increased insulin signaling in the NAc, which may modulate nicotine place preference. Our studies provide novel targets for future work on development of more effective therapeutic approaches to counteract the rewarding properties of nicotine for smoking cessation.


BXD panel; Chrna7; behavioral genetics; conditioned place preference; genomics; insulin; nicotine; quantitative trait loci; reward; α7 Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor

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