Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors and behavior: distinct cholinergic mechanisms underlying regulation of food intake and corticothalamic development
Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are critical mediators of the effects of acetylcholine in the brain. Although we know a lot about the role of nAChRs in circuits underlying reward and addiction, there are many other sites of cholinergic modulation. nAChRs are expressed throughout the brain and are important for many neuronal processes, including those related to appetite and to development of circuits involved in cognitive function. Importantly, there are differences in the nicotinic receptor subtypes and the brain areas responsible for distinct behavioral functions of nAChRs. For example, activation of beta4 subunit-containing nAChRs in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus in adulthood can decrease food intake and body weight, whereas alterations of nAChR signaling in deep layers of cortex during development can result in persistent changes in aversive learning. Overall, the identification of these diverse central effects of nAChRs provides new avenues for understanding the role of these receptors in brain function, and may contribute to the development of novel medications for smoking addiction and obesity.
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