Addictive drugs can activate systems involved in normal reward-related learning, creating long-lasting memories of the drug's reinforcing effects and the environmental cues surrounding the experience. These memories significantly contribute to the maintenance of compulsive drug use as well as cue-induced relapse which can occur even after long periods of abstinence. Synaptic plasticity is thought to be a prominent molecular mechanism underlying drug-induced learning and memories. Ethanol and nicotine are both widely abused drugs that share a common molecular target in the brain, the neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). The nAChRs are ligand-gated ion channels that are vastly distributed throughout the brain and play a key role in synaptic neurotransmission. In this review, we will delineate the role of nAChRs in the development of ethanol and nicotine addiction. We will characterize both ethanol and nicotine's effects on nAChR-mediated synaptic transmission and plasticity in several key brain areas that are important for addiction. Finally, we will discuss some of the behavioral outcomes of drug-induced synaptic plasticity in animal models. An understanding of the molecular and cellular changes that occur following administration of ethanol and nicotine will lead to better therapeutic strategies. © 2012 Feduccia, Chatterjee and Bartlett.
Feduccia, A. A., Chatterjee, S., & Bartlett, S. E. (2012). Neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors: neuroplastic changes underlying alcohol and nicotine addictions. Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience, 5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnmol.2012.00083