Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to nicotine, the principal addictive component driving tobacco smoking. In a companion study, we found that reduced activity of the translation initiation factor eIF2α underlies the hypersensitivity of adolescent mice to the effects of cocaine. Here we report that nicotine potentiates excitatory synaptic transmission in ventral tegmental area dopaminergic neurons more readily in adolescent mice compared to adults. Adult mice with genetic or pharmacological reduction in p-eIF2α-mediated translation are more susceptible to nicotine's synaptic effects, like adolescents. When we investigated the influence of allelic variability of the Eif2s1 gene (encoding eIF2α) on reward-related neuronal responses in human smokers, we found that a single nucleotide polymorphism in the Eif2s1 gene modulates mesolimbic neuronal reward responses in human smokers. These findings suggest that p-eIF2α regulates synaptic actions of nicotine in both mice and humans, and that reduced p-eIF2α may enhance susceptibility to nicotine (and other drugs of abuse) during adolescence.
Keywords: adolescents; human; human fMRI; mouse; neuroscience; nicotine-induced plasticity; protein synthesis; ventral tegmental area.