Adolescence is a time of significant brain development, and exposure to nicotine during this period is associated with higher subsequent rates of dependence. Chronic nicotine exposure alters expression of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), changing the pattern of nicotine responsiveness. I used quantitative autoradiography to measure three major subtypes of nAChRs after chronic nicotine exposure by osmotic minipump in adult (PN60-70) and periadolescent (PN28-30) rats. Comparison of control animals at the two different ages revealed that periadolescents express consistently greater numbers of α4β2* nAChRs compared to the same brain regions of adults. Similar but less pronounced increases in α7 nAChRs were found in control periadolescent rats compared to adults. Binding of [125I]α-conotoxin MII (largely to α6* nAChRs) did not systematically differ between adults and periadolescents. The response to chronic nicotine exposure also differed by age. Up-regulation of α4β2* nAChRs was prominent and widespread in adult animals; in periadolescents, α4β2* up-regulation also occurred, but in fewer regions and to a lesser extent. A similar pattern of response was seen with α7 receptors: adults were more responsive than periadolescents to nicotine-induced up-regulation. In adult animals, chronic nicotine exposure did not cause up-regulation of α6* nAChRs; binding was down-regulated in three regions. Unlike the other subtypes, the response of α6* nAChRs to chronic nicotine was greater in periadolescents, with more regions showing greater down-regulation compared to adults. These differences in receptor expression and regulation between age groups are likely to be important given the unique vulnerability of adolescents to nicotine-induced behavioral changes and susceptibility to drug abuse.
I used whole genome microarray analysis to determine the effects of nicotine on gene expression in the ventral tegmental area. I examined brains immediately after two weeks of nicotine or saline, and also four weeks after termination of nicotine exposure. After identifying genes with a significant age x treatment interaction, I employed template matching to find specific patterns of expression across age and treatment. Of those genes that were transiently regulated (up- or down-regulated immediately following the end of nicotine treatment, but back to saline baseline 30 days later), two-thirds were specific to adult animals, while only 30% were specific to adolescents and 4% were shared across the two ages. In contrast, significant genes that were persistently regulated (altered following nicotine treatment and still altered 30 days later) were more likely (59%) to be adolescent associated, with only 32% in adults and 8% shared. The greatest number of significant genes was late-regulated (no change immediately after nicotine, but regulated 30 days later). Again, most were in adolescents (54%), compared to adults (10%) or shared (36%). Pathway analysis revealed that adolescent-specific genes were over-represented in several biological functions and canonical pathways, including nervous system development and function and long-term potentiation. Furthermore, adolescent-specific genes formed extensive interaction networks, unlike those specific for adults or shared between the two age groups. This age-specific expression pattern may relate to the heightened vulnerability of adolescents to the effects of addictive drugs. In particular, the propensity of adolescents to show persistent alterations in gene expression corresponds to the persistence of drug dependence among smokers who began their habit as adolescents. These findings support a model whereby adolescent brains are uniquely vulnerable to long-term changes in gene expression in the brain's reward pathway caused by early exposure to nicotine.
|Advisor:||Perry, David C.|
|Commitee:||Chiappinelli, Vincent A., Kellar, Kenneth J., Lee, Norman H., Mendelowitz, David S.|
|School:||The George Washington University|
|School Location:||United States -- District of Columbia|
|Source:||DAI-B 72/02, Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Keywords:||Adolescent drug abuse, Autoradiography, Long term potentiation, Nervous system development, Nicotine addiction, Nicotinic receptors|
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