Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 17116233
J Neurochem 2007 Feb; 100(3): 596-602
Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are important targets of the neuromodulator acetylcholine (ACh) and the drug nicotine. The role of their different subunits has been analysed for a decade by the creation of knock-out (KO) mice using homologous recombination. This technique shows that a given subunit is necessary for a given function. However, for ubiquitously expressed genes, it cannot demonstrate the localization for a given subunit in which its expression is sufficient, especially for behavioural phenotypes. Sufficient in this context means that the brain region requiring the expression of the gene product has been localized. Novel strategies have therefore been developed to re-express, region specifically, nAChR subunits on a KO background using lentiviral vectors. Localized regeneration of fully functional high-affinity nAChRs in defined brain regions has proven that these receptors are sufficient to restore a variety of functions: nicotine-induced dopamine release, nicotine self-administration in mice, dopamine neuron firing patterns, and exploratory and locomotor behaviours in a sequential locomotor task testing executive function were thus defined as depending exclusively on the ‘knock-back’ of beta2*-nAChRs into the ventral tegmental area. These analyses highlight the important role of endogenous cholinergic regulation of a variety of functions. The novel integrated use of restricted re-expressed nAChR subunits with in vivo electrophysiology and automated quantitative behavioural analysis enables the further analysis of defined neuronal circuits in nicotine addiction and higher cognitive function.