Differential roles of α6β2* and α4β2* neuronal nicotinic receptors in nicotine- and cocaine-conditioned reward in mice

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2015 Jan;40(2):350-60. doi: 10.1038/npp.2014.177. Epub 2014 Jul 18.


Mesolimbic α6* nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are thought to have an important role in nicotine behavioral effects. However, little is known about the role of the various α6*-nAChRs subtypes in the rewarding effects of nicotine. In this report, we investigated and compared the role of α6*-nAChRs subtypes and their neuro-anatomical locus in nicotine and cocaine reward-like effects in the conditioned place preference (CPP) paradigm, using pharmacological antagonism of α6β2* nAChRs and genetic deletion of the α6 or α4 subunits in mice. We found that α6 KO mice exhibited a rightward shift in the nicotine dose-response curve compared with WT littermates but that α4 KO failed to show nicotine preference, suggesting that α6α4β2*-nAChRs are involved. Furthermore, α6β2* nAChRs in nucleus accumbens were found to have an important role in nicotine-conditioned reward as the intra-accumbal injection of the selective α6β2* α-conotoxin MII [H9A; L15A], blocked nicotine CPP. In contrast to nicotine, α6 KO failed to condition to cocaine, but cocaine CPP in the α4 KO was preserved. Intriguingly, α-conotoxin MII [H9A; L15A], blocked cocaine conditioning in α4 KO mice, implicating α6β2* nAChRs in cocaine reward. Importantly, these effects did not generalize as α6 KO showed both a conditioned place aversion to lithium chloride as well as CPP to palatable food. Finally, dopamine uptake was not different between the α6 KO or WT mice. These data illustrate that the subjective rewarding effects of both nicotine and cocaine may be mediated by mesolimbic α6β2* nAChRs and that antagonists of these receptor subtypes may exhibit therapeutic potential.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Avoidance Learning / drug effects
  • Avoidance Learning / physiology
  • Cocaine / pharmacology*
  • Conditioning, Psychological / drug effects
  • Conditioning, Psychological / physiology
  • Conotoxins / pharmacology
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Food
  • Lithium Chloride / administration & dosage
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Nicotine / pharmacology*
  • Nicotinic Agonists / pharmacology*
  • Nicotinic Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / metabolism*
  • Reward
  • Spatial Behavior / drug effects
  • Spatial Behavior / physiology


  • Conotoxins
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors
  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Nicotinic Antagonists
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • alpha-conotoxin MII
  • alpha6beta2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor
  • nicotinic receptor alpha4beta2
  • Nicotine
  • Lithium Chloride
  • Cocaine
  • Dopamine