Background: The higher incidence of smoking among alcoholic subjects suggests the presence of common molecular mechanisms underlying nicotine and alcohol use and abuse. However, these mechanisms are largely unknown. By using cultured fetal mouse cortical neurons as a model system, we sought to identify genes and pathways that are modulated in the cells by ethanol, nicotine, or both.
Methods: Primary cerebral cortical cultures were prepared from the brains of 14-day-old C57BL/6 mouse fetuses and exposed to ethanol (75 mM), nicotine (0.1 mM), or both for 5 consecutive days. A homeostatic pathway-focused microarray consisting of 638 sequence-verified genes was used to measure transcripts differentially regulated by ethanol, nicotine, or both in 5 drug-treated cortical neuron samples and 5 control samples. Quantitative real-time reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction analysis was used to verify the mRNA expression levels of genes of interest detected from the microarray experiments.
Results: Through a pathway-focused cDNA microarray and balanced experimental design, we identified 65, 111, and 81 significantly regulated genes in the ethanol, nicotine, and ethanol/nicotine-treated neurons, respectively. Of them, the genes of Akt2, Nsg1, Pdgfa, Pfn1, Rbbp7, and Tcfeb were comodulated. The genes differentially expressed in 1 or more treatment groups could be classified into 4 major clusters, with each cluster consisting of genes involved in different biological processes. The platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) signaling pathway was significantly regulated by all 3 treatments, but by different mechanisms, which may lead to different cellular consequences.
Conclusions: Our results indicate that the PDGF pathway represents one of the major biochemical mechanisms in the cellular and molecular responses to each drug in cortical neurons. Finally, we demonstrated that the pathway-focused microarray system used in the present study is a valuable tool for dissecting the mechanisms of complex signaling pathways such as the PDGF pathway.