Tobacco smoking results in more than five million deaths each year and accounts for ∼90% of all deaths from lung cancer.3 Nicotine, the major reinforcing component of tobacco smoke, acts in the brain through the neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). The nAChRs are allosterically regulated, ligand-gated ion channels consisting of five mem-brane-spanning subunits. Twelve mammalian α subunits (α2–α10) and three β subunits (β2– β4) have been cloned. The predominant nAChR subtypes in mammalian brain are those containing α4 and β2 subunits (denoted as α4β2* nAChRs). The α4β2* nAChRs mediate many behaviors related to nicotine addiction and are the primary targets for currently ap-proved smoking cessation agents. Considering the large number of nAChR subunits in the brain, it is likely that nAChRs containing subunits in addition to α4 and β2 also play a role in tobacco smoking. Indeed, genetic variation in the CHRNA5–CHRNA3–CHRNB4 gene cluster, encoding the α5, α3, and β4 nAChR subunits, respectively, has been shown to increase vulnerability to tobacco dependence and smoking-associated diseases including lung cancer. Moreover, mice, in which expression of α5 or β4 subunits has been genetically modified, have profoundly altered patterns of nicotine consumption. In addition to the reinforcing properties of nicotine, the effects of nicotine on appetite, attention, and mood are also thought to contribute to establishment and maintenance of the tobacco smoking habit. Here, we review recent insights into the behavioral actions of nicotine, and the nAChR subtypes involved, which likely contribute to the development of tobacco dependence in smokers.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbera039610
JournalCold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2021


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