Adverse health consequences of tobacco use are the leading cause of preventable mortality worldwide, resulting in approximately 6 million deaths per year. The addictive component of tobacco is nicotine, a tertiary alkaloid that binds and activates nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), ligand-gated ion channels that are normally activated by the endogenous neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh). Neuronal nAChRs are pentamers assembled from various combinations of receptor subunits and different subunit combinations confer different affinities and functionalities to the receptor subtypes. Eleven subunits, ?2- ?7, ?9, ?10 and 2-4, have been identified in mammalian neuronal nAChRs. Interestingly, chronic nicotine or cigarette smoke exposure results in the upregulation of nAChRs in the brain, including structures within the mesocorticolimbic dopaminergic (DAergic) pathway that is implicated in reward and addiction. While not completely understood, nicotine- induced upregulation of nAChRs is thought to contribute to addiction by altering the neural network, possibly resulting in increased tolerance or altered sensitivity to nicotine. While there are many proposed mechanisms for nAChR upregulation, it is largely believed that multiple forms of posttranscriptional regulation is responsible for this phenomenon. Currently, there is not much known about posttranscriptional regulation of mammalian nAChR subunit expression by microRNAs (miRNAs), small single stranded RNA molecules that function as negative regulators of gene expression. However, there is emerging evidence that miRNA expression is decreased in various rodent tissue types in response to nicotine exposure. In addition, recent studies have found that miRNA dysregulation in response to exposure to various drugs of abuse, including cocaine, can influence rewarding properties of the drug and alter addiction-associated behaviors. We have recently generated preliminary data suggesting that a novel regulatory mechanism involving miRNAs may be at work in the nicotine-mediated upregulation of nAChRs. Preliminary experiments from our lab have identified several miRNAs that are predicted to target nAChR subunit mRNA transcripts, in particular miR-494 and miR-542-3p that target ?4 and 2 transcripts, respectively.
In Aim 1, I will determine if ?4 and/or 2 are modulated by miR- 494 and/or miR-542-3p in primary midbrain neuronal cultures.
In Aim 2, I will determine if miR-494 and/or miR- 542-3p are modulators of nicotine reward-associated behavior in mice. Through these aims, I hope to achieve a better understanding of the role of miR-494 and miR-542-3p in nicotine reward-associated behaviors, possibly revealing new targets for the development of tobacco cessation aids.

Public Health Relevance

The purpose of the proposed project is to gain a better understanding of the role(s) of miRNAs in modulation of nicotine reward-associated behaviors. The proposed experiments will test the hypothesis that miR-494 and/or miR-542-3p modulate the expression of a4 and/or 2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunits in response to nicotine exposure, contributing to the development of nicotine reward-associated behaviors. This work will provide a greater understanding on the mechanism of nicotine reward and addiction, potentially identifying new targets for the development of pharmacological tobacco cessation aids.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Individual Predoctoral NRSA for M.D./Ph.D. Fellowships (ADAMHA) (F30)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-F02A-J (20))
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Babecki, Beth
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University of Massachusetts Medical School Worcester
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United States
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Hogan, Eric M; Casserly, Alison P; Scofield, Michael D et al. (2014) miRNAome analysis of the mammalian neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor gene family. RNA 20:1890-9